The Death Penalty Worldwide: Estimated Death Row Populations

 

 

Data compiled by:
Mark Warren
Human Rights Research
Almonte, Ontario
Canada

 

Overview
 

Although the United Nations and numerous non-governmental organizations monitor and research the use of the death penalty worldwide, one basic question remains unanswered: how many people are under sentence of death around the world?  When it was first developed several years ago, this chart was the first known attempt to provide a tentative answer to that difficult question.  It is based on regularly updated data from many sources, including official statistics, research by human rights organizations and media reports.  However, it represents no more than a rough estimate: accurate data for those countries that apply the death penalty with the greatest frequency is often incomplete or unavailable. In all likelihood, the actual figure for the global death row population is significantly higher than the highest estimate in the chart.


For comparison, Amnesty International reports that: “At least 18,848 people were known to be under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2016.” ACT 50/5740/2017, at 6. Death Sentences and Executions in 2016 .

 

In many parts of the world, the use of the death penalty is shrouded in secrecy.  Some of the most active executing nations release no official statistics on executions, death sentencing or death row populations (e.g., China, Saudi Arabia, Iran).  In other retentionist countries, any information on the use of the death penalty is treated as a state secret.

   

For example, it is highly likely that China carries out more executions than the rest of the world combined; unofficial estimates place the figure at 2,400 executions annually. Chinese courts can also impose a suspended death sentence, in which the execution is deferred for several years and may later be commuted altogether. Until recently, most death sentences in China were reviewed only by regional courts and it is unclear whether there is a centralized registry of death sentences and dispositions.  Ongoing judicial reforms may ultimately result in a more accurate picture of the death penalty in China, but for the time being, any estimates of the death row population in that country can be little better than guesswork. 

 

Where no figures are available for nations believed to have significant death row populations, I have used very conservative estimates based on the total death sentences reportedly imposed or carried out in a recent year.

 

Although a number of nations with large death row populations have recently abolished the death penalty entirely (notably Rwanda and Kyrgyzstan), several other countries are in a transitional stage in which the number of death sentences imposed annually greatly exceeds the number of executions or commutations.  As a consequence, condemned prisoner populations in those nations are growing rapidly and inmates remain under sentence of death for many years—exacerbating the effects of the “death row phenomenon” (the cruel and degrading consequences of prolonged incarceration under sentence of death).  

 

In a number of other countries (such as Algeria), many death sentences are still imposed each year even though a de facto moratorium on executions remains in effect. This legal logjam helps to explain the paradox of a global death row population explosion at a time when the actual use of the death penalty worldwide is in sharp decline. 

 


 

Methodology: 
 

The initial data set was compiled between September of 2004 and March of 2006.  Totals reflect the most current estimates available and are updated regularly.

 

Figures in column 1 represent the most reliable and comprehensive data available, typically recent reports from Amnesty International or other human rights NGOs that have conducted original research.
 

Figures in column 2 are the lowest reported total from any reasonably credible source, including incomplete estimates.
 

Figures in column 3 are the highest reported total from any recorded source.
 

Figures in column 4 represent either the annual death sentencing or execution rate, where estimates of the total death row population are not available.
 

Column 1 entries as ??? indicate nations believed to have large numbers of death row inmates, but for which no reliable data on the total death row population is available.
 

Legend:
 

AI                Amnesty International

HRW           Human Rights Watch

DPW           Death Penalty Worldwide

HOC            Hands Off Cain

LDF             NAACP Legal Defense Fund, "Death Row USA"

DPIC           Death Penalty Information Center

BBC             British Broadcasting Corporation

IANS           Indo-Asian News Service

AFP             Agence France-Presse

IPS              Inter Press Service

UN               United Nations sources

 

 

COUNTRY

MOST COMPLETE

AVAILABLE

ESTIMATE

OTHER

ESTIMATE

(BASE)

OTHER

ESTIMATE

(HIGH)

ANNUAL SENTENCES OR EXECUTIONS

Afghanistan

At least 600 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Algeria

 

At least 677 (DPW, 4/11)

+ 266 (943; (DPW 08/15)

 

Antigua

0 (all commuted, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Bahamas

0 (all commuted, as of 12/16

 

 

 

Bahrain

 

 

 

 

Bangladesh

At least 1645 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Barbados

13 (AI,12/16)

 

 

 

Belarus

2 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Belize

0 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Benin

14 (AI, as of 01/17, after non-retroactive abolition in 2016)

 

 

 

Botswana

1 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Brunei

 

 

 

 

Burkina Faso

12 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Cameroon

???

 

 

At least 198 sentences in 2016  (89 in March (CNN, BBC) 109 in August (Pulse.ng))

Central African Republic

 

 

 

 

Chad

 

20 (AI 2005)

+15 (around 35; DPW, 06/12)

 

China

???

 

 

Approx. 2400 executions in 2013 (Dui Hua Foundation)

Comoros

 

 

 

 

Congo (DRC)

 

At least 93 new sentences in 2016 (AI)

 

 

Cuba

0 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Dominica

0 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Egypt

???

 

237 recorded death sentences (AI 12/16)

 

Equatorial Guinea

??? (temporary moratorium?)

 

 

 

Eritrea

 

 

 

 

Ethiopia

10 (AI, 12/16)

 

+127 (135: (DPW estimate, 05/10)

 

Gambia

At least 38 (AI, 8/12)

 

 

 

Ghana

148 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Grenada

1 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Guatemala

0 (AI, as of 12/13)

 

 

 

Guinea

12 (AI 2016)

 

+8 (at least 34; DPW, 5/12)

 

Guyana

23 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

India

At least 400 (AI 12/16)

 

 +77 (477: BBC News, 12/12)

 

Indonesia

At least 215 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Iran

???

 

+2000 (“thousands awaiting execution”, AI Annual Report 2012)

 

Iraq

1724 (UN, as of  10/14)

 

 

 

Jamaica

0 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Japan

141 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Jordan

40 (AI, as of 12/09)

+34 (74 (DPW 07/12)

 

 

Kazakhstan

1 (AI, 12/16)

27 (HOC)

 

 

Kenya

At least 2 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Korea (North)

???

 

 

At least 70 executions in 2013 (AI, as of 12/13)

Korea (South)

61 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Kuwait

At least 12 (AI 2008)

 

49 new death sentences in 2016 (AI, 12/16)

 

Laos

 

At least 89 (DPW, 4/11)

 

 

Lebanon

at least 40 (AI, as of 12/09)

 

126 new death sentences in 2016 (AI, 12/16)

 

Lesotho

 

 

 

 

Liberia

 

At least 16 (DPW 02/04/11)

 

 

Libya

at least 18 (AI, as of 12/13)

 

+162 (approx. 180: HRW 2005 prisoner interview)

 

Malawi

28 (AI,12/16)

 

 

 

Malaysia

1042 (AI, as of 4/16)

 

 

 

 

Maldives

18 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Mali

53 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Mauritania

77 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Morocco

At least 92 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Myanmar

 

 

At least 3 new sentences in 2016 (AI, 12/16)

 

Niger

 

 

 

 

Nigeria

1979 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Oman

 

 

 

 

Palestinian Authority

at least 21 (AI, 12/16)

 

+73 (about 87; DPW estimate, 04/11)

 

Pakistan

At least 6000 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Papua New Guinea

14 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Qatar

4 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

St. Kitts

1 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

St. Lucia

0 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

St. Vincent

1 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia

At least 44 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

Sierra Leone

18 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Singapore

At least 38 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Somalia

At least 100 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Sri Lanka

1004  (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Sudan

 

 

300 (HRW 2005)

 

South Sudan

At least 16 sentences in 2013 (AI)

 

 

 

Swaziland

6 (AI, as of 12/13)

 

 

 

Syria

???

 

 

17 executed (AI  03/11)

Taiwan

42 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Tajikistan

(moratorium in effect)

0 (DPW 04/11)

 

 

Tanzania

491 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Thailand

427 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Tonga

 

 

 

 

Trinidad

33 (AI, as of 12/16)

 

 

 

Tunisia

At least 5 (AI, as of 12/13)

 

 

 

Uganda

208 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

U.A.E.

???

 

 

At least 16 sentences in 2013 (AI)

USA

2902(LDF,12/16)

 

 

 

Viet Nam

At least 681 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Yemen

???

 

1,000 (HOC)

 

Zambia

157 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

Zimbabwe

97 (AI, 12/16)

 

 

 

TOTALS

21,345

889

4496

3230

ESTIMATE #1

(columns 1+2)

22,164

 

 

 

ESTIMATE #2

(all columns)

29,891

 

 

 

 

 

 

Executive Clemency: Mass Commutations of Death Sentences

 

COUNTRY

DATE

NUMBER

Sri Lanka

February 2017

60

Kenya

October 2016

2747 (all)

Sri Lanka

May 2016

70

Sri Lanka

April 2016

83

Sri Lanka

February 2016

34

Zambia

July 2015

332

Ghana

July 2014

21

Myanmar

January 2014

35? (all)

Ghana

July 2013

33

Zambia

May 2013

113

Tunisia

January 2012

240 (all)

USA (Illinois)

March 2011

15 (all)

Ethiopia

June 2011

23

Myanmar

May 2011

All (reported as 657)

Bangladesh

September 2010

20

India

September 2010

14

Tanzania

November 2009

75

Nigeria (Lagos State)

August 2009

40

Kenya

August 2009

Over 4,000 (all)

Ghana

January 2009

approx. 500

Zambia

January 2009

53

Cuba

April 2008

 approx. 50

USA (New Jersey)

December 2007

8 (all)

Zambia

August 2007

 97

Congo

August 2007

17 (all?)

Morocco

March 2007

14

Nigeria

October 2006

107

Tanzania

August 2006

approx. 400

Philippines

April 2006

approx. 1,237-1,280 (all)

Malawi

April 2004

79

Zambia

Feb.-May 2004

59

Ghana

June 2003

179

Kenya

February 2003

223

USA (Illinois)

January 2003

167 (all)

Pakistan

July 2002

74 juveniles

Philippines

December 2002

105

Russia

June 1999

716 (all)

 

 

Page last updated: April 11, 2017

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