U.S. in Top 5 For Executions Worldwide


First, the good news.  In 1961, the year Amnesty International was founded, only 9 countries had completely abolished the death penalty (10 if you count West Germany).  By 1977, the year Amnesty International simultaneously won the Nobel Peace Prize and took up death penalty abolition as a priority human rights cause, there were still only 16 such countries (plus West Germany).

Since then, there has been a sea change.  As documented in Amnesty International’s new report on Death Sentences and Executions in 2010, 96 countries have fully abolished capital punishment, while only 58 actively retain it (and only 23 carried out executions in 2010).  The remaining 43 nations have the death penalty on the books, but do not really use it.  So, basically, more than two-thirds of the world’s countries are living without the death penalty. (And thanks to Illinois, so are almost one-third of U.S. states.)

But 1977 was also the year that the United States resumed executions after a ten-year hiatus. During the next couple of decades, while most of the rest of the world was beginning to see the death penalty as a fundamental violation of human rights, the U.S. was pursuing executions in greater and greater numbers.  And while executions and death sentences have declined significantly in the U.S. over the last decade, the use of capital punishment has been collapsing at a much faster rate worldwide, so that in 2010, once again, the U.S. ranked in the top 5 of the world’s most prolific executioners.


Lost in Iraq

This post is part of our Write for Rights series

Walid Yunis Ahmad is quite possibly the longest serving detainee in Iraq. He is a member of the marginalized Turkoman minority and has been imprisoned in Irbil, Northern Iraq, without charge or trial for more than ten years.

Walid was detained by Kurdish security forces in February 2000 after he was given a lift in a car that allegedly contained explosives. Although the driver of the car was released within three months, Walid remains locked up more than a decade later.

For the first three years after his detention Walid’s family received no official notification of his arrest and believed he had simply disappeared.

During these early years of confinement, Walid was tortured, held in solitary confinement and transferred from prison to prison until he finally ended up in the cells of the Kurdish security police headquarters, where he remains to this day.

Walid told Amnesty International delegates who visited him last June:

“I haven’t seen my children for 10 years. I did not want to see them in this terrible predicament.”