From Amnesty International
Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty
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:
- 86 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;
- 11 countries have abolished the death penalty forall but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes;
- 24 countries can be considered abolitionist in practice:
they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any
executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a
policy or established practice of not carrying out executions,
making a total of 121 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
- 75 other countries and territories retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller.
2. Progress towards worldwide abolition
Over 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (recent examples include Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay, Mexico), Asia and the Pacific (Bhutan. Samoa, Turkmenistan) and Europe and the South Caucasus (Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey).
3. Moves to reintroduce the death penalty
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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 later stopped. There have been no executions in the
other two (Gambia, Papua New Guinea).
4. Death sentences and executions
During 2004, at least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries and at least 7,395 people were sentenced to death in 64 countries. These were only minimum figures; the true figures were certainly higher.
In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA.
Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 3,400 people were executed in China
during the year, although the true figures were believed to be much
higher. In March 2004 a delegate at the National People’s Congress said
that “nearly 10,000” people are executed per year in China.
Iran executed at least 159 people, and Viet Nam at least 64. There were 59 executions in the USA, down from 65 in 2003.
5. Methods of execution
Executions have been carried out by the following methods since 2000:
– Beheading (in Saudi Arabia, Iraq)
– Electrocution (in USA)
– Hanging (in Egypt, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Singapore and other countries)
– Lethal injection (in China, Guatemala, Philippines, Thailand, USA)
– Shooting (in Belarus, China, Somalia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam and other countries)
– Stoning (in Afghanistan, Iran)
6. 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 or executed. The
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on
the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare
of the Child and the American Convention on Human Rights 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.
Eight countries since 1990 are known to have executed
prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime – China,
Congo (Democratic Republic), Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, USA
and Yemen. China, Pakistan and Yemen have raised the minimum age to 18
in law, and Iran is reportedly in the process of doing so. The USA
executed more child offenders than any other country (19 between 1990
Amnesty International recorded four executions of child offenders in 2004 – one in China and three in Iran.
Six child offenders have been executed in Iran since January 2005.
7. 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: “. . .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 World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 230)
8. Effect of abolition on crime rates
Reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of
the death penalty and homicide rates, a study conducted for the United
Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002 stated: “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”.
Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that
abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, for example, 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 2003, 27 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 1.73 per 100,000 population, 44 per cent lower than in 1975 and the lowest rate in three decades.
(Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 214)
9. 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:
- The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by 55 states. Eight other states have signed the Protocol, indicating their intention to become parties to it at a later date.
- The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, which has been ratified by eight states and signed by one other in the Americas.
- Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention for
the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European
Convention on Human Rights), which has been ratified by 44 European states and signed by two others.
- Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention for
the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European
Convention on Human Rights), which has been ratified by 32 European states and signed by 11 others.
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
10. Execution of the innocent
As long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.
Since 1973, 121 prisoners have been released in the USA
after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they
were sentenced to death. There were six such cases in 2004 and two up
to June 2005. Some prisoners 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.
11. The death penalty in the USA
- 59 prisoners were executed in the USA in 2004, bringing the year-end total to 944 executed since the use of the death penalty was resumed in 1977.
- Over 3,400 prisoners were under sentence of death as of 1 January 2005.
- 38 of the 50 US states provide for the
death penalty in law. The death penalty is also provided under US
federal military and civilian law.
Last updated: 4 October 2005
These Amnesty International statistics cited by Lonely
Planet founder Tony Wheeler in Crikey last week are pretty startling:
300 million people/60 executions per year = 20 per 100 million
is fast approaching what should be a shameful milestone: the thousandth
execution since 1976 when the US Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling and
decided that capital punishment did not constitute cruel and unusual
80 million people/60 executions per year = 75 per 100 million people
70 million people/160 executions per year = 230 per 100 million people
1.3 billion people – 3,500 executions per year = 270 per 100 million
5. Saudi Arabia:
25 million people/80 executions per year = 320 per 100 million
4 million people/30 executions per year = 750 per 100 million people