Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Wikipedia CC 2.0.

After a record-high year of death sentences implemented around the world in 2016, a new report released by Amnesty International shows an overall decrease in capital punishment during 2017.

However, the group reported, many countries are still implementing executions which ignore international law.

Amnesty International released the report this week, highlighting the execution and death penalty rates around the globe.

The organization particularly applauded sub-Saharan Africa, where multiple countries have made strides in reducing or eliminating capital punishment in 2017.

“Now that 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, it is high time that the rest of the world follows their lead and consigns this abhorrent punishment to the history books,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general for Amnesty International.

In a news release, Shetty pointed to Guinea, which outlawed the death penalty, and Kenya, which eliminated the mandatory death penalty for murder. Burkina Faso and Chad also look legislative measures to repeal capital punishment, while the president of Gambia enacted a temporary ban on executions in February 2018.

Much of the world has followed suit, Amnesty International found, noting that 142 countries in total have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice by 2017. The report cited a total of 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017 – a number of executions which has dropped 4 percent from the previous year.

This decrease followed a particularly high rate of executions in 2016, which saw 1,032 deaths by capital punishment around the world.

Figures exclude executions in China, where the number of executions remains a state secret, although it is believed that the capital punishment figures reach into the thousands.

Eighty-four percent of all recorded executions were recorded in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan, which remain the top countries for enacting the death penalty.

While pleased with the overall drop in global executions, Amnesty International pointed to some “distressing trends” involving the practice of capital punishment for inmates with non-violent crimes, juvenile offenders, individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities, and criminal confessions as a result of torture.

“Fifteen countries imposed death sentences or executed people for drug-related offenses, ignoring international law,” the report said.

International law states that the death penalty should only be enacted for the most serious of crimes, according to the Telegraph.

Shelly additionally said that there are still some world leaders “who would resort to the death penalty as a ‘quick fix’ rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies.”

“Strong leaders execute justice, not people,” Shelly continued.

In the belated Pope John Paul II’s papal encyclical on life, Evangelium Vitae, the pope affirmed the dignity of human life while also calling for justice for offenses against life. He noted that the death penalty should be “viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line of human dignity” and “with God’s plan for man and society,” which should only be used in “cases of absolute necessity.” He noted that these cases would be “rare.”

Pope Francis has also defended the dignity of every life throughout his papacy and has been an advocate against the death penalty, calling the practice “inhumane.”

“No one ought to be deprived not only of life, but also of the chance for a moral and existential redemption that in turn can benefit the community,” he said in an address to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization in October 2017.

Currently, there are 21,919 people on death row around the world.

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it,” Shelly said.

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing.”