The execution chamber at the Arizona State Prison Complex is shown in the screen grab from a video provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections March 4, 2015.
Photo by Arizona Department of Corrections/Reuters

Amnesty International: US is fifth biggest executioner in the world


The United States is the fifth biggest executioner in the world, despite the process reaching an all-time low in the country last year, according to Amnesty International. 

This week, the human rights organization released its annual report on executions and death sentences. The United States remains the only country in the western hemisphere to carry out the death penalty. But, as previously reported by msnbc, 35 people were executed in 2014, four less than in 2013.

RELATED: Executions in US at 20-year low, report finds

The United States is one of 40 countries in the world that still employs capital punishment. More than two-thirds — or 141 countries — have abolished the death penalty, according to Amnesty International. Polling shows that, since 1937, support for the death penalty has been as low as 42% in 1966, and as high as 80% in 1994.

The number of death sentences worldwide spiked by almost 500 in 2014. Amnesty International linked the rise to leaders’ efforts in tackling real or perceived threats from terrorism, crime, or internal instability throughout the year.

At least 2,466 people received death sentences worldwide in 2014, compared to 1,925 the previous year. The group noticed large developments in Nigeria and Egypt, where hundreds of people were sentenced to death.

Governments in North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia continued to use the death penalty as a tool to suppress political dissent, the report found.

High-profile botched executions in the United States drew intense public scrutiny last year, and questions arose about new drug cocktails used in lethal injections. Officials in Oklahoma and the 31 other states that enforce the death penalty have been scrambling to find new suppliers of lethal injection drugs after several pharmaceutical companies stopped carrying the medication because of criticism based on ethical concerns. In some cases, authorities have executed prisoners with drugs — often obtained in secrecy — never before used for the purpose. 

Amnesty International, which focuses on human rights, recorded executions in 22 countries in 2014, the same number as the previous year. China again carried out more executions than the rest of the world combined, according to the report. Excluding China, at least 607 executions were known to have been carried out in 2014, compared to 778 in 2013.

Iran officially executed 289 people, and at least 454 more who were not acknowledged by the authorities. Saudi Arabia executed at least 90 individuals, Iraq at least 61, and the United States at least 35.

Methods of executions in 2014 included beheading, hanging, lethal injection, and shooting. Public executions were carried out in Iran and Saudi Arabia. People faced the death penalty for a range of non-lethal crimes including robbery, drug-related crimes, and economic offences.