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Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Executions decline in 1999
Saudi Arabian execution
A public execution filmed in Saudi Arabia in 1996
More than 1,800 people were executed in 31 countries around the world last year - more than half of them in China, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights group says the total number fell compared with 1998, when it was just over 2,200, but the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia all recorded big increases.

The report calls on the United Nations to take the lead in protecting people from what it calls the ultimate, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Electric chair
The electric chair as used in Florida in the US
Amnesty says that, overall, there is an international trend towards abolishing the death penalty, with 104 countries having now stopped carrying out executions.

The statistics were compiled as part of the organisation's campaign for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

In the US, 98 prisoners were executed last year - an increase of 30 on 1998.

This included one prisoner who was a juvenile when he committed the crime for which he was convicted.

The death penalty in 1999
1,800 executions worldwide
China: more than 1,000
Iran: 165
Saudi Arabia: 103
US: 98
"In the first three months of 2000 alone, more such people have been executed in the US in defiance of international law," Amnesty said.

According to the available figures, China carried out more executions than the rest of the world put together - more than 1,000 - though Amnesty believes the real figure is probably much higher.

The organisation says it is unable to confirm reports that hundreds of people were also executed in Iraq.

The judicial process in Saudi Arabia is also singled out by Amnesty for criticism, with a significant proportion of people executed in the kingdom denied formal legal representation.

Axel Bartolome
Axel Bartolome clutches a Bible as he is lead to execution in the Philippines in January
The 103 recorded Saudi death sentences last year - a significant rise on the 29 carried out in 1998 - probably do not reflect the full figure, the report said.

As many as 100 people were executed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after being sentenced by a military court.

The report also noted that countries such as Cuba, Oman and the United Arab Emirates extended the death penalty to non-lethal crimes last year, while Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago reversed effective bans on capital punishment by resuming executions.

Amnesty said its figures were likely to be conservative estimates because of the efforts of many countries to suppress statistics on executions.

UN role

Amnesty called on the UN Commission on Human Rights to demand global action on the death penalty at its annual meeting which is currently under way in Geneva.

"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life.

"The UN should take the lead and take firm and positive measures to protect those facing the death penalty," Amnesty said.

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See also:

18 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
China escapes UN rights censure
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Saudi rough justice
16 Apr 00 | Middle East
Saudi to set up rights panels
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia 'buys silence' on abuse
02 Mar 00 | Americas
Texas execution angers French
25 Feb 00 | Americas
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14 Apr 98 | Despatches
UN attacks US execution policy
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