The number of state executions worldwide skyrocketed more than 50 percent in 2015 compared with a year earlier, Amnesty International’s latest annual survey reports today.
In fact, last year saw the highest number of executions globally in more than 25 years, with three countries—Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia—accounting for nearly 90 percent of known executions, even as much of the world seems to be rejecting the practice. (Amnesty International’s figures exclude executions in China, which regards information on its use of the death penalty as a state secret.)
In contrast, the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by children dropped to nine known executions last year as compared with 14 in 2014. Even with this decline, that’s too many executions of juvenile offenders —international law flatly prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed under age 18.
Only two countries are known to have carried out death sentences against juvenile offenders in 2015. Pakistan put five people to death for crimes they had committed while under age 18, and Iran executed four. In comparison, in 2014, Iran -- the only country known to have carried out such executions in that year -- put 14 juvenile offenders to death.
This year Bangladesh and Maldives joined the list of countries that, although still handing down death sentences for juvenile offenders, have not carried them out. Juvenile offenders convicted in previous years also remained under sentence of death in Indonesia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran, Amnesty International reports.
While Iran has for years been the world leader in executing juvenile offenders, Pakistan’s execution spree, including of juvenile offenders, began in December 2014 as part of a misguided response to a horrific attack by the Pakistani Taliban splinter group Tehreek-e-Talibam on a school in Peshawar that killed over 130 children.
Overall, four countries abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2015, and 169 of the 193 United Nations member countries were execution-free during the year. Despite the rise in executions in Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, there’s reason to conclude that most of the world is on a trajectory toward total abolition.
In short, it’s clear that the few countries that continue to rely on this particularly inhuman punishment—whether for juvenile offenders or for adults—are increasingly isolated.