Fewer people were executed in 2009 than in previous years, according to Amnesty International's annual report on the issue. Yet this still means that 714 people in 18 countries received the death penalty. That figure only reflects the officially registered cases. The actual number is much higher.
The new figures for 2009 give cause for optimism. For the first time in many years, no official executions took place in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Mongolia or Pakistan. In Europe too, no death sentences were carried out according to official figures. The same cannot be said for 2010: last week the authorities in Belarus executed two convicted criminals.
The General Assembly of the United Nations has taken important steps towards achieving a worldwide moratorium. Today there are nearly 100 countries in which capital punishment has been officially abolished. On the American continent, the United States is now the only country to impose the death sentence.
China not only refuses to issue official figures on this subject, but it is also known to have the highest rate of capital punishment in the world. Based on evidence from previous years and recent sources, Amnesty estimates that the number of executions in China in 2009 was in the thousands.
No need for secrecy
In countries such as Belarus, Iran, Mongolia, North Korea and Vietnam the death sentence is also shrouded in secrecy, a practice Amnesty condemns as indefensible. The organisation argues that if these punishments are legitimate and anchored in the legal system - as these countries claim they are - there should be no need to carry them out in secret.
The execution of young people who committed their crime before turning 18 is seen as a direct violation of international law. However, Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to impose such sentences.
No valid reason
In the conclusion of its report, Amnesty reaffirms that it is against the death penalty in all its forms. It insists that neither the nature of the crime, nor the character of the criminal, nor the method of execution can provide a valid reason for taking a human life.