In a recent issue of National Geographic, under the main page “Geography”, the magazine has a spread titled “Death Knell”. It tells how the death penalty is plummeting around the world.

The opening paragraph of the article reads:

In the early 1800’s an Englishman would be hanged for stealing a shirt. By the end of the 1900’s, growing concern for individual rights had caused the death penalty to disappear from the United Kingdom and nearly everywhere else in the Western world. Two exceptions are Belarus and the United States, although this year New Mexico became the 15th state to outlaw capital punishment.

In 2008 there were official reports of 2,390 executions in 25 countries:

  • China 1,718
  • Iran 346
  • Saudi Arabia 102
  • United States 37

Then follows a list of other countries that do at least one execution. Among them are Syria, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. What’s sobering is looking through the list of countries who killed fewer of their citizens than us: Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea among them.

The parting shot form the article:

The practice of the death penalty is strong in culturally conservative areas - Japan, Saudi Arabia, Texas - and totalitarian regimes.