1. Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries
Over half the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
Amnesty International's latest information shows that:
making a total of 112 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
2. Progress Towards Worldwide Abolition
More than three countries a year on average have abolished the death penalty for all crimes in the past decade. Over 35 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (examples include Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay), Asia (Hong Kong, Nepal) and Europe (Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkmenistan and Ukraine).
3. Moves to Reintroduce the Death Penalty
Once abolished, the death penalty is seldom reintroduced. Since 1985, over 50 countries
have abolished the death penalty in law or, having previously abolished it for ordinary
crimes, have gone on to abolish it for all crimes. During the same period only four
abolitionist countries reintroduced the death penalty. One of them - Nepal - has since
abolished the death penalty again; one, the Philippines, resumed executions but has
since suspended them. There have been no executions in the other two (Gambia, Papua New Guinea).
4. Death Sentences and Executions
During 2002, at least 1,526 prisoners were executed in 31 countries and at least 3,248 people were sentenced to death in 67 countries. These figures include only cases known to Amnesty International; the true figures are certainly higher.
In 2002, 81 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran and the USA. In China, the limited and incomplete records available to Amnesty International at the end of the year indicated that at least 1,060 people were executed, but the true figure was believed to be much higher. At least 113 executions were carried out in Iran. Seventy-one people were executed in the USA.
5. Use of the Death Penalty Against Child Offenders
International human rights treaties prohibit anyone under 18 years old at the time of the crime being sentenced to death. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all have provisions to this effect. More than 110 countries whose laws still provide for the death penalty for at least some offences have laws specifically excluding the execution of child offenders or may be presumed to exclude such executions by being parties to one or another of the above treaties. A small number of countries, however, continue to execute child offenders.
Seven countries since 1990 are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime - Congo (Democratic Republic), Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, USA and Yemen. The country which carried out the greatest number of known executions of child offenders was the USA (17 since 1990).
Amnesty International recorded three executions of child offenders in 2002: all three of them were in the state of Texas in the USA. Another child offender was executed in the state of Oklahoma in April 2003.
6. The Deterrence Argument
Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded that "it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment".
(Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective, Oxford University Press, third edition, 2002, p. 230)
7. Effect of Abolition on Crime Rates
Reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of the death penalty and crime rates, a study conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002 stated that "The fact that the statistics... continue to point in the same direction is persuasive evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty".
(Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective, Oxford University Press, third edition, 2002, p. 214)
Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since then it has declined further. In 2001, 25 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 1.78 per 100,000 population, 42 per cent lower than in 1975.
8. International Agreements to Abolish the Death Penalty
One of the most important developments in recent years has been the adoption of international treaties whereby states commit themselves to not having the death penalty. Four such treaties now exist:
Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights is an agreement to abolish the death penalty in peacetime. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights provide for the total abolition of the death penalty but allow states wishing to do so to retain the death penalty in wartime as an exception. Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights provides for the total abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
9. Execution of the Innocent
As long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.
Since 1973, 107 prisoners have been released from death row in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. Some had come close to execution after spending many years under sentence of death. Recurring features in their cases include prosecutorial or police misconduct; the use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence, or confessions; and inadequate defence representation. Other US prisoners have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts over their guilt.
The then Governor of the US state of Illinois, George Ryan, declared a moratorium on executions in January 2000. His decision followed the exoneration of the 13th death row prisoner found to have been wrongfully convicted in the state since the USA reinstated the death penalty in 1977. During the same period, 12 other Illinois prisoners had been executed.
In January 2003 Governor Ryan pardoned four death row prisoners and commuted all 167 other death sentences in Illinois.
10. The Death Penalty in the USA