The Top Ten List You Wouldn’t Want to Be On

March 30, 2011 Michael Kaufman

Amnesty International has released one of its human rights lists.  On it are China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Bangladesh, and Somalia.   All are known for deep and ongoing abuses of human rights.

When it comes to human rights, it’s not a list that any right-thinking person (or country) would want to be part of.

But that’s only nine countries.  There is one other.  The United States.

It’s the list of countries with death-penalty executions in 2010.  By a long shot, China led the way: its numbers are a secret, but Amnesty estimates it executed thousands, far more than the rest of the world combined.  Iran was second (252), then North Korea (60), Yemen (53), and the United States (46), followed by Saudi Arabia (27), Libya (18), Syria (17), Bangladesh (9), and Somalia (8).  Except for the exact US figures, other numbers are Amnesty’s confirmed minimum.

As Amnesty states:

The death penalty is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state.  This cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment….violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.

Some countries have the death sentence for “drug-related offenses, economic crimes, sexual relations between consenting adults and blasphemy.”   It is used against political dissent.   As high profile cases involving falsely-convicted individuals continue to show, it is open to abuse and mistakes.  It is often applied unevenly, for example along class, sex, or racial lines.

There is good news.  The number of confirmed executions recorded by Amnesty fell from 714 in 2009 to 527 in 2010, excluding China.   Thirty-one countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice in the past ten years. One-third of US states have outlawed the death penalty and a recent US study shows growing opposition.