As many countries prepare to mark the international World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10, recent trends indicate that the world is shifting away from capital punishment. According to a report published by Reprieve, an organization that represents death row prisoners around the world, 91 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes by the end of 2007, followed by three more so far in 2008. Even in Central Asia where executions are part of a long tradition, several countries have restricted or placed moratoriums on the use of the death penalty. In Africa, Rwanda abolished its death penalty in the past year while several other African nations have taken steps toward abolition. Overall, 137 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, while 60 countries continue to utilize capital punishment. Almost all state executions in 2007 were carried out by only five nations – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. At least 1,252 executions took place in 24 countries over the course of the year, 88% of them in the five nations listed above.
As a continent, Asia continues to lead the world in the greatest number of executions, the bulk of them occurring in China. Several nations, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Sudan, allow the death penalty for crimes not involving murder, such as adultery and consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex. Additionally, both Iran and Saudi Arabia executed juveniles in 2007. In Europe, where the European Union does not allow membership to any country with capital punishment, Belarus is the only nation that has retained the death penalty.
Since 2003, the United States has been the only country in the Americas to carry out executions. However, 2007 saw the lowest number of executions in over a decade and death sentences continue to drop across the nation.