, also known as the death penalty
, is the state
-sanctioned killing of a person as punishment for a crime. The sentence
ordering that someone is punished with the death penalty is called a death sentence
, and the act of carrying out such a sentence is known as an execution
. A prisoner awaiting their execution is condemned
and is "on death row
". Crimes that are punishable by death are known as capital crimes
, capital offences
or capital felonies
, and vary depending on the jurisdiction, but commonly include serious crimes against the person
such as murder
, mass murder
, aggravated cases of rape
, child rape
, child sexual abuse
, war crimes
, crimes against humanity
, and genocide
, along with crimes against the state such as attempting to overthrow government, treason
, and aircraft hijacking
. Also, in some cases, acts of recidivism
, aggravated robbery
, and kidnapping
, in addition to drug trafficking
, drug dealing
, and drug possession
, are capital crimes or enhancements.
Fifty-five countries retain capital punishment
, 110 countries have completely abolished it de jure
for all crimes, seven have abolished it for ordinary crimes (while maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes), and 27 are abolitionist in practice.
Although most nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world's population live in countries where the death penalty is retained, such as China
, the United States
, Saudi Arabia
, as well as in Japan
Capital punishment is controversial in several countries and states, and positions can vary within a single political ideology
or cultural region. In the European Union
(EU), Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
prohibits the use of capital punishment.
The Council of Europe
, which has 47 member states, has sought to abolish the use of the death penalty by its members absolutely, through Protocol 13
of the European Convention on Human Rights
. However, this only affects those member states which have signed and ratified it, and they do not include Armenia
, and Azerbaijan
. The United Nations General Assembly
has adopted, throughout the years from 2007 to 2018,
seven non-binding resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions
, with a view to eventual abolition.
Execution of criminals
has been used by nearly all societies since the beginning of civilizations
Until the nineteenth century, without developed prison systems, there was frequently no workable alternative to ensure deterrence and incapacitation of criminals.
times the executions themselves often involved torture with cruel and painful methods, such as the breaking wheel
, hanging, drawing, and quartering
, burning at the stake
, slow slicing
, boiling alive
, blowing from a gun
, and scaphism
. Other methods which appear only in legend include the blood eagle
and brazen bull
The use of formal execution extends to the beginning of recorded history. Most historical records and various primitive tribal practices indicate that the death penalty was a part of their justice system. Communal punishments for wrongdoing generally included blood money
compensation by the wrongdoer, corporal punishment
and execution. In tribal societies, compensation and shunning were often considered enough as a form of justice.
The response to crimes committed by neighbouring tribes, clans or communities included a formal apology, compensation, blood feuds
, and tribal warfare
A blood feud
or vendetta occurs when arbitration between families or tribes fails or an arbitration system is non-existent. This form of justice was common before the emergence of an arbitration system based on state or organized religion. It may result from crime, land disputes or a code of honour. "Acts of retaliation underscore the ability of the social collective to defend itself and demonstrate to enemies (as well as potential allies) that injury to property, rights, or the person will not go unpunished."
In most countries that practise capital punishment, it is now reserved for murder
, war crimes
, or as part of military justice. In some countries sexual crimes
, such as rape
, and bestiality
carry the death penalty, as do religious crimes such as Hudud
, and Qisas
crimes, such as apostasy
(formal renunciation of the state religion
. In many countries that use the death penalty
, drug trafficking
and often drug possession
is also a capital offence. In China, human trafficking
and serious cases of corruption
and financial crimes
are punished by the death penalty. In militaries around the world courts-martial
have imposed death sentences for offences such as cowardice
, and mutiny
Elaborations of tribal arbitration of feuds
included peace settlements often done in a religious context and compensation system. Compensation was based on the principle of substitution
which might include material (for example, cattle, slaves, land) compensation, exchange of brides or grooms, or payment of the blood debt. Settlement rules could allow for animal blood to replace human blood, or transfers of property or blood money
or in some case an offer of a person for execution. The person offered for execution did not have to be an original perpetrator of the crime because the social system was based on tribes and clans, not individuals. Blood feuds could be regulated at meetings, such as the Norsemen things
Systems deriving from blood feuds may survive alongside more advanced legal systems or be given recognition by courts (for example, trial by combat
or blood money). One of the more modern refinements of the blood feud is the duel
In certain parts of the world, nations in the form of ancient republics, monarchies or tribal oligarchies emerged. These nations were often united by common linguistic, religious or family ties. Moreover, expansion of these nations often occurred by conquest of neighbouring tribes or nations. Consequently, various classes of royalty, nobility, various commoners and slaves emerged. Accordingly, the systems of tribal arbitration were submerged into a more unified system of justice which formalized the relation between the different "social classes
" rather than "tribes". The earliest and most famous example is Code of Hammurabi
which set the different punishment and compensation, according to the different class/group of victims and perpetrators. The Torah
(Jewish Law), also known as the Pentateuch
(the first five books of the Christian Old Testament
), lays down the death penalty for murder, kidnapping
, practicing magic
, violation of the Sabbath
, and a wide range of sexual crimes, although evidence suggests that actual executions were rare.
A further example comes from Ancient Greece
, where the Athenian
legal system replacing customary oral law
was first written down by Draco
in about 621 BC: the death penalty was applied for a particularly wide range of crimes, though Solon
later repealed Draco's code and published new laws, retaining capital punishment only for intentional homicide
, and only with victim's family permission.
The word draconian
derives from Draco's laws. The Romans
also used the death penalty for a wide range of offences.
(whose thought is reported by Plato
) criticizes the principle of revenge, because once the damage is done it cannot be canceled by any action. So, if the death penalty is to be imposed by society, it is only to protect the latter against the criminal or for a dissuasive purpose.
"The only right that Protagoras knows is therefore human right, which, established and sanctioned by a sovereign collectivity, identifies itself with positive or the law in force of the city. In fact, it finds its guarantee in the death penalty which threatens all those who do not respect it."
, for his part, saw the death penalty as a means of purification, because crimes are a "defilement". Thus in the Laws
, he considered necessary the execution of the animal or the destruction of the object which caused the death of a Man by accident. For the murderers, he considered that the act of homicide
is not natural and is not fully consented by the criminal. Homicide is thus a disease of the soul
, which must be reeducated as much as possible, and, as a last resort, sentence to death if no rehabilitation is possible.
According to Aristotle
, for whom free will is proper to man, the citizen is responsible for his acts. If there was a crime, a judge
must define the penalty allowing the crime to be annulled by compensating it. This is how pecuniary compensation appeared for criminals the least recalcitrant and whose rehabilitation
is deemed possible. But for others, the death penalty is necessary according to Aristotle.
This philosophy aims on the one hand to protect society and on the other hand to compensate in order to cancel the consequences of the crime
committed. It inspired Western criminal law until the 17th century
, a time when the first reflections on the abolition of the death penalty appeared.
In ancient Rome
, the application of the death penalty against Roman citizens was unusual and considered exceptional. They preferred alternative sentences ranging, depending on the crime and the criminal, from private or public reprimand to exile
, including the confiscation of his property, or torture
, or even prison, and as a last resort, death. A historic debate, followed by a vote, took place in the Roman Senate
to decide the fate of Catiline
's allies when he tried to take power in December -63.then Roman consul
, argued in favor of the killing of conspirators without judgment by decision of the Senate (Senatus consultum ultimum
)and was followed by the majority of senators; among the minority voices opposed to the execution, we mainly count that of Julius Caesar
It was quite different for foreigners
who were considered inferior to Roman citizenship
and especially for slaves, who were considered as movable property.
Although many are executed in the People's Republic of China
each year in the present day,
there was a time in the Tang dynasty
(618–907) when the death penalty was abolished.
This was in the year 747, enacted by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang
(r. 712–756). When abolishing the death penalty Xuanzong ordered his officials to refer to the nearest regulation by analogy when sentencing those found guilty of crimes for which the prescribed punishment was execution. Thus depending on the severity of the crime a punishment of severe scourging with the thick rod or of exile to the remote Lingnan region might take the place of capital punishment. However, the death penalty was restored only 12 years later in 759 in response to the An Lushan Rebellion
At this time in the Tang dynasty only the emperor had the authority to sentence criminals to execution. Under Xuanzong
capital punishment was relatively infrequent, with only 24 executions in the year 730 and 58 executions in the year 736.
The two most common forms of execution in the Tang dynasty were strangulation and decapitation, which were the prescribed methods of execution for 144 and 89 offences respectively. Strangulation was the prescribed sentence for lodging an accusation against one's parents or grandparents with a magistrate, scheming to kidnap a person and sell them into slavery, and opening a coffin while desecrating a tomb. Decapitation was the method of execution prescribed for more serious crimes such as treason and sedition. Despite the great discomfort involved, most of the Tang Chinese preferred strangulation to decapitation, as a result of the traditional Tang Chinese belief that the body is a gift from the parents and that it is, therefore, disrespectful to one's ancestors to die without returning one's body to the grave intact.
Some further forms of capital punishment were practised in the Tang dynasty, of which the first two that follow at least were extralegal.[clarification needed]
The first of these was scourging to death with the thick rod[clarification needed]
which was common throughout the Tang dynasty especially in cases of gross corruption. The second was truncation, in which the convicted person was cut in two at the waist with a fodder knife and then left to bleed to death.
A further form of execution called Ling Chi (slow slicing
), or death by/of a thousand cuts, was used from the close of the Tang dynasty (around 900) to its abolition in 1905.
When a minister of the fifth grade or above received a death sentence the emperor might grant him a special dispensation allowing him to commit suicide in lieu of execution. Even when this privilege was not granted, the law required that the condemned minister be provided with food and ale by his keepers and transported to the execution ground in a cart rather than having to walk there.
Nearly all executions under the Tang dynasty took place in public as a warning to the population. The heads of the executed were displayed on poles or spears. When local authorities decapitated a convicted criminal, the head was boxed and sent to the capital as proof of identity and that the execution had taken place.
The breaking wheel
was used during the Middle Ages and was still in use into the 19th century.
and early modern Europe, before the development of modern prison
systems, the death penalty was also used as a generalized form of punishment for even minor offences. During the reign of King Henry VIII of England
, as many as 72,000 people are estimated to have been executed in the country.
In early modern Europe, a massive moral panic
swept across Europe and later the European colonies in North America. During this period, there were widespread claims that malevolent Satanic witches
were operating as an organized threat to Christendom
. As a result, tens of thousands of women were prosecuted for witchcraft and executed through the witch trials of the early modern period
(between the 15th and 18th centuries).
Despite the wide use of the death penalty, calls for reform were not unknown. The 12th century Jewish
legal scholar, Moses Maimonides
, wrote, "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent man to death." He argued that executing an accused criminal on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof
, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice". Maimonides's concern was maintaining popular respect for law, and he saw errors of commission as much more threatening than errors of omission.
While during the Middle Ages
the expiatory aspect of the death penalty was taken into account, this is no longer the case under the Lumières
. These define the place of man within society no longer according to a divine rule, but as a contract established at birth between the citizen and the society, it is the social contract
. From that moment on, capital punishment should be seen as useful to society through its dissuasive effect, but also as a means of protection of the latter vis-à-vis criminals.
of Dei delitti e delle pene
(On Crimes and Punishments
), 1766 ed.
In the last several centuries, with the emergence of modern nation states
, justice came to be increasingly associated with the concept of natural and legal rights
. The period saw an increase in standing police forces and permanent penitential institutions. Rational choice theory
, a utilitarian
approach to criminology
which justifies punishment as a form of deterrence as opposed to retribution, can be traced back to Cesare Beccaria
, whose influential treatise On Crimes and Punishments
(1764) was the first detailed analysis of capital punishment to demand the abolition of the death penalty.
In England Jeremy Bentham
(1748-1832), the founder of modern utilitarianism, called for the abolition of the death penalty.
Beccaria, and later Charles Dickens
and Karl Marx
noted the incidence of increased violent criminality at the times and places of executions. Official recognition of this phenomenon led to executions being carried out inside prisons, away from public view.
In England in the 18th century, when there was no police force, Parliament drastically increased the number of capital offences to more than 200. These were mainly property offences, for example cutting down a cherry tree in an orchard.
In 1820, there were 160, including crimes such as shoplifting, petty theft or stealing cattle.
The severity of the so-called Bloody Code
was often tempered by juries who refused to convict, or judges, in the case of petty theft, who arbitrarily set the value stolen at below the statutory level for a capital crime.
Mexican execution by firing squad, 1916
In Nazi Germany
there were three types of capital punishment; hanging, decapitation and death by shooting.
Also, modern military organisations employed capital punishment as a means of maintaining military discipline. In the past, cowardice
, absence without leave, desertion
, shirking under enemy fire and disobeying orders were often crimes punishable by death (see decimation
and running the gauntlet
). One method of execution, since firearms came into common use, has also been firing squad
, although some countries use execution with a single shot to the head or neck.
By continent, all European states but one have abolished capital punishment;[note 1]
states have abolished it;[note 2]
most states in the Americas
have abolished its use,[note 3]
while a few actively retain it;[note 4]
less than half of countries in Africa retain it;[note 5]
and the majority of countries in Asia retain it.[note 6]
Abolition was often adopted due to political change, as when countries shifted from authoritarianism to democracy, or when it became an entry condition for the EU. The United States is a notable exception: some states have had bans on capital punishment for decades, the earliest being Michigan
where it was abolished in 1846, while other states still actively use it today. The death penalty in the United States remains a contentious issue which is hotly debated
In retentionist countries, the debate is sometimes revived when a miscarriage of justice has occurred though this tends to cause legislative efforts to improve the judicial process rather than to abolish the death penalty. In abolitionist countries, the debate is sometimes revived by particularly brutal murders though few countries have brought it back after abolishing it. However, a spike in serious, violent crimes, such as murders or terrorist attacks, has prompted some countries to effectively end the moratorium on the death penalty. One notable example is Pakistan
which in December 2014 lifted a six-year moratorium on executions after the Peshawar school massacre
during which 132 students and 9 members of staff of the Army Public School and Degree College Peshawar were killed by Taliban
terrorists. Since then, Pakistan has executed over 400 convicts.
In 2017 two major countries, Turkey
and the Philippines
, saw their executives making moves to reinstate the death penalty.
In the same year, passage of the law in the Philippines failed to obtain the Senate's approval.
History of abolition
Peter Leopold II
abolished the death penalty throughout Tuscany
in 1786, making it the first nation in modern history to do so.
In England, a public statement of opposition was included in The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards
, written in 1395. Sir Thomas More
, published in 1516, debated the benefits of the death penalty in dialogue form, coming to no firm conclusion. More was himself executed for treason in 1535. More recent opposition to the death penalty stemmed from the book of the Italian Cesare Beccaria Dei Delitti e Delle Pene
("On Crimes and Punishments
"), published in 1764. In this book, Beccaria aimed to demonstrate not only the injustice, but even the futility from the point of view of social welfare
, of torture
and the death penalty. Influenced by the book, Grand Duke Leopold II
of Habsburg, the future Emperor of Austria, abolished the death penalty in the then-independent Grand Duchy of Tuscany
, the first permanent abolition in modern times. On 30 November 1786, after having de facto
blocked executions (the last was in 1769), Leopold promulgated the reform of the penal code
that abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all the instruments for capital execution in his land. In 2000, Tuscany's regional authorities instituted an annual holiday on 30 November to commemorate the event. The event is commemorated on this day by 300 cities around the world celebrating Cities for Life Day
. In the United Kingdom, it was abolished for murder (leaving only treason
, piracy with violence
, arson in royal dockyards
and a number of wartime military offences as capital crimes) for a five-year experiment in 1965 and permanently in 1969, the last execution having taken place in 1964. It was abolished for all peacetime offences in 1998.
In the post classical Republic of Poljica
life was ensured as a basic right in its Poljica Statute
of 1440. The Roman Republic
banned capital punishment in 1849. Venezuela
followed suit and abolished the death penalty in 1863
and San Marino
did so in 1865. The last execution in San Marino had taken place in 1468. In Portugal, after legislative proposals in 1852 and 1863, the death penalty was abolished in 1867. The last execution of the death penalty in Brazil was 1876, from there all the condemnations were commuted by the Emperor Pedro II
until its abolition for civil offences and military offences in peacetime in 1891. The penalty for crimes committed in peacetime was then reinstated and abolished again twice (1938–53 and 1969–78), but on those occasions it was restricted to acts of terrorism or subversion considered "internal warfare" and all sentence were commuted and were not carried out.
In the United States, Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty, on 18 May 1846.
The death penalty was declared unconstitutional between 1972 and 1976 based on the Furman v. Georgia
case, but the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia
case once again permitted the death penalty under certain circumstances. Further limitations were placed on the death penalty in Atkins v. Virginia
(2002; death penalty unconstitutional for people with an intellectual disability
) and Roper v. Simmons
(2005; death penalty unconstitutional if defendant was under age 18 at the time the crime was committed). In the United States, 21 states and the District of Columbia
ban capital punishment.
Many countries have abolished capital punishment either in law or in practice. Since World War II
there has been a trend toward abolishing capital punishment. Capital punishment has been completely abolished by 102 countries, a further six have done so for all offences except under special circumstances and 32 more have abolished it in practice because they have not used it for at least 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice against carrying out executions.
Since World War II
, there has been a trend toward abolishing the death penalty. 55 countries retain the death penalty in active use, 110 countries have abolished capital punishment altogether, 7 have done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 27 more have abolished it in practice because they have not used it for at least 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice against carrying out executions.
According to Amnesty International, 20 countries are known to have performed executions in 2019.
There are countries which do not publish information on the use of capital punishment, most significantly China and North Korea
. According to Amnesty International, around 1,000 prisoners were executed in 2017.
Abolitionist countries: 110
Abolitionist-in-practice countries (have executed nobody during the last 14 or more years), and abolitionist-in-law for all crimes except those committed under exceptional circumstances (such as crimes committed in wartime): 7
Abolitionist-in-practice countries (have not executed anyone during the past 10 years or more AND are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions): 27
Retentionist countries: 55
Number of abolitionist and retentionist countries by year
The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly restrained in some retentionist
countries including Taiwan
Indonesia carried out no executions between November 2008 and March 2013. Singapore
, Japan and the United States are the only developed countries that are classified by Amnesty International as 'retentionist' (South Korea is classified as 'abolitionist in practice').
Nearly all retentionist countries are situated in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean
The only retentionist country in Europe is Belarus
. The death penalty was overwhelmingly practised in poor and authoritarian states, which often employed the death penalty as a tool of political oppression. During the 1980s, the democratisation of Latin America swelled the ranks of abolitionist countries.
This was soon followed by the fall of Communism
in Europe. Many of the countries which restored democracy aspired to enter the EU
. The EU and the Council of Europe
both strictly require member states
not to practise the death penalty (see Capital punishment in Europe
). Public support for the death penalty in the EU varies.
The last execution in a member state of the present-day Council of Europe took place in 1997 in Ukraine
In contrast, the rapid industrialisation in Asia has seen an increase in the number of developed countries which are also retentionist. In these countries, the death penalty retains strong public support, and the matter receives little attention from the government or the media; in China there is a small but significant and growing movement to abolish the death penalty altogether.
This trend has been followed by some African and Middle Eastern countries where support for the death penalty remains high.
Some countries have resumed practising the death penalty after having previously suspended the practice for long periods. The United States suspended executions in 1972 but resumed them in 1976; there was no execution in India between 1995 and 2004; and Sri Lanka
declared an end to its moratorium
on the death penalty on 20 November 2004,
although it has not yet performed any further executions. The Philippines
re-introduced the death penalty in 1993 after abolishing it in 1987, but again abolished it in 2006.
The United States and Japan are the only developed countries to have recently carried out executions. The U.S. federal government, the U.S. military, and 28 states have a valid death penalty statute, and over 1,400 executions have been carried in the United States since it reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Japan has 112 inmates with finalized death sentences as of December 26, 2019, after executing Wei Wei, a former student from China who was charged with robbing and killing a Japanese family of four, including children aged 8 and 11, in 2003.
The most recent country to abolish the death penalty was Kazakhstan
on 2 January 2021 after a moratorium dating back 2 decades.
According to an Amnesty International
report released in April 2020, Egypt
ranked regionally third and globally fifth among the countries that carried out most executions in 2019. The country increasingly became ignorant of international human rights
concerns and criticism. In March 2021, Egypt executed 11 prisoners in a jail, who were convicted in cases of "murder, theft, and shooting".
Modern-day public opinion
The public opinion on the death penalty varies considerably by country and by the crime in question. Countries where a majority of people are against execution include Norway, where only 25% are in favour.
Most French, Finns, and Italians also oppose the death penalty.
A 2020 Gallup poll shows that 55% of Americans support the death penalty for an individual convicted of murder, down from 60% in 2016, 64% in 2010, 65% in 2006, and 68% in 2001.
In Taiwan, polls and research have consistently shown strong support for Death Penalty at the high 80% rate. This includes a survey conducted by the National Development Council of Taiwan
in 2016, showing that 88% of Taiwanese people disagree with abolishing the Death Penalty.
The support and sentencing of capital punishment has been growing in India in the 2010s
due to anger over several recent brutal cases of rape, even though actual executions are comparatively rare.
While support for the death penalty for murder is still high in China, executions have dropped precipitously, with 3,000 executed in 2012 versus 12,000 in 2002.
A poll in South Africa, where capital punishment is abolished, found that 76% of millennial
South Africans support re-introduction of the death penalty due to increasing incidents of rape and murder.
A 2017 poll found younger Mexicans
are more likely to support capital punishment than older ones.
57% of Brazilians support the death penalty. The age group that shows the greatest support for execution of those condemned is the 25 to 34-year-old category, in which 61% say they are in favor.
The death penalty for juvenile
offenders (criminals aged under 18 years at the time of their crime although the legal or accepted definition of juvenile offender
may vary from one jurisdiction to another) has become increasingly rare. Considering the Age of Majority
is still not 18 in some countries or has not been clearly defined in law, since 1990 ten countries have executed offenders who were considered juveniles at the time of their crimes: The People's Republic of China (PRC), Bangladesh
, Democratic Republic of Congo
, Saudi Arabia
, the United States
, and Yemen
China, Pakistan, the United States, Yemen and Saudi Arabia have since raised the minimum age to 18.
Amnesty International has recorded 61 verified executions since then, in several countries, of both juveniles and adults who had been convicted of committing their offences as juveniles.
The PRC does not allow for the execution of those under 18, but child executions have reportedly taken place.
Mother Catherine Cauchés (center) and her two daughters Guillemine Gilbert (left) and Perotine Massey (right) with her infant son burning for heresy
One of the youngest children ever to be executed was the infant son of Perotine Massey on or around 18 July 1556. His mother was one of the Guernsey Martyrs
who was executed for heresy, and his father had previously fled the island. At less than one day old, he was ordered to be burned by Bailiff Hellier Gosselin, with the advice of priests nearby who said the boy should burn due to having inherited moral stain from his mother, who had given birth during her execution.
, children under the age of 14 were exempted from the death penalty in 1794.
Capital punishment was cancelled by the Electorate of Bavaria
in 1751 for children under the age of 11
and by the Kingdom of Bavaria
in 1813 for children and youth under 16 years.
In Prussia, the exemption was extended to youth under the age of 16 in 1851.
For the first time, all juveniles were excluded for the death penalty by the North German Confederation
which was continued by the German Empire
In Nazi Germany
, capital punishment was reinstated for juveniles between 16 and 17 years in 1939.
This was broadened to children and youth from age 12 to 17 in 1943.
The death penalty for juveniles was abolished by West Germany
, also generally, in 1949 and by East Germany
In the Hereditary Lands, Austrian Silesia
within the Habsburg Monarchy
, capital punishment for children under the age of 11 was no longer foreseen by 1770.
The death penalty was, also for juveniles, nearly abolished in 1787 except for emergency or military law, which is unclear in regard of those. It was reintroduced for juveniles above 14 years by 1803,
and was raised by general criminal law to 20 years in 1852
and this exemption
and the alike one of military law in 1855,
which may have been up to 14 years in wartime,
were also introduced into all of the Austrian Empire
In the Helvetic Republic
, the death penalty for children and youth under the age of 16 was abolished in 1799
yet the country was already dissolved in 1803 whereas the law could remain in force if it was not replaced on cantonal level. In the canton of Bern
, all juveniles were exempted from the death penalty at least in 1866.
, capital punishment was generally, including for juveniles, abolished by 1849. In Ticino
, it was abolished for youth and young adults under the age of 20 in 1816.
, the exclusion from the death penalty was extended for juveniles and young adults up to 19 years of age by 1835.
In 1942, the death penalty was almost deleted in criminal law, as well for juveniles, but since 1928 persisted in military law during wartime for youth above 14 years.
If no earlier change was made in the given subject, by 1979 juveniles could no longer be subject to the death penalty in military law during wartime.
Between 2005 and May 2008, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen were reported to have executed child offenders, the largest number occurring in Iran.
During Hassan Rouhani
's current tenure as president of Iran since 2013, at least 3,602 death sentences have been carried out. This includes the executions of 34 juvenile offenders.
Iran, despite its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
, was the world's largest executioner of juvenile offenders, for which it has been the subject of broad international condemnation; the country's record is the focus of the Stop Child Executions Campaign
. But on 10 February 2012, Iran's parliament changed controversial laws relating to the execution of juveniles. In the new legislation the age of 18 (solar year) would be applied to accused of both genders and juvenile offenders must be sentenced pursuant to a separate law specifically dealing with juveniles.
Based on the Islamic law which now seems to have been revised, girls at the age of 9 and boys at 15 of lunar year (11 days shorter than a solar year) are deemed fully responsible for their crimes.
Iran accounted for two-thirds of the global total of such executions, and currently[needs update]
has approximately 140 people considered as juveniles awaiting execution for crimes committed (up from 71 in 2007).
The past executions of Mahmoud Asgari, Ayaz Marhoni
and Makwan Moloudzadeh became the focus of Iran's child capital punishment policy and the judicial system that hands down such sentences.
Saudi Arabia also executes criminals who were minors at the time of the offence.
In 2013, Saudi Arabia was the center of an international controversy after it executed Rizana Nafeek
, a Sri Lankan
domestic worker, who was believed to have been 17 years old at the time of the crime.
Saudi Arabia banned execution for minors, except for terrorism cases, in April 2020.
Japan has not executed juvenile criminals after August 1997, when they executed Norio Nagayama
, a spree killer
who had been convicted of shooting four people dead in the late 1960s. Nagayama's case created the eponymously named Nagayama standards
, which take into account factors such as the number of victims, brutality and social impact of the crimes. The standards have been used in determining whether to apply the death sentence in murder cases. Teruhiko Seki
, convicted of murdering four family members including a 4-year-old daughter and raping a 15-year-old daughter of a family in 1992, became the second inmate to be hanged for a crime committed as a minor in the first such execution in 20 years after Nagayama on 19 December 2017. Takayuki Otsuki
, who was convicted of raping and strangling a 23-year-old woman and subsequently strangling her 11-month-old daughter to death on 14 April 1999, when he was 18, is another inmate sentenced to death, and his request for retrial has been rejected by the Supreme Court of Japan
- Hanging (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, Palestinian National Authority, Israel, Yemen, Egypt, India, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, UAE, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Liberia)
- Shooting (the People's Republic of China, Republic of China, Vietnam, Belarus, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, North Korea, Indonesia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, and in the US states of Oklahoma and Utah).
- Lethal injection (United States, Guatemala, Thailand, the People's Republic of China, Vietnam)
- Beheading (Saudi Arabia)
- Stoning (Nigeria, Sudan)
- Electrocution and gas inhalation (some U.S. states, but only if the prisoner requests it or if lethal injection is unavailable)
- Inert gas asphyxiation (Some U.S states, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama)
A public execution is a form of capital punishment which "members of the general public may voluntarily attend". This definition excludes the presence of a small number of witnesses randomly selected to assure executive accountability.
While today the great majority of the world considers public executions to be distasteful and most countries have outlawed the practice, throughout much of history executions were performed publicly as a means for the state to demonstrate "its power before those who fell under its jurisdiction be they criminals, enemies, or political opponents". Additionally, it afforded the public a chance to witness "what was considered a great spectacle".
Social historians note that beginning in the 20th century in the U.S. and western Europe death in general became increasingly shielded from public view, occurring more and more behind the closed doors of the hospital.
Executions were likewise moved behind the walls of the penitentiary.
The last formal public executions occurred in 1868 in Britain, in 1936 in the U.S. and in 1939 in France.
Crimes against humanity such as genocide
are usually punishable by death in countries retaining capital punishment. Death sentences for such crimes were handed down and carried out during the Nuremberg Trials
in 1946 and the Tokyo Trials
in 1948, but the current International Criminal Court
does not use capital punishment. The maximum penalty available to the International Criminal Court is life imprisonment
Intentional homicide is punishable by death in most countries retaining capital punishment, but generally provided it involves an aggravating factor
required by statute or judicial precedents. Some countries like Singapore
made the death penalty mandatory
for murder, though Singapore later changed its laws since 2013
to reserve the mandatory death sentence
for intentional murder while providing an alternative sentence of life imprisonment
for murder with no intention to cause death, which allowed some convicted murderers on death row
in Singapore (including Kho Jabing
) to apply for the reduction of their death sentences after the courts in Singapore confirmed that they committed murder without the intention to kill and thus eligible for re-sentencing under the new death penalty laws in Singapore.
In 2018, at least 35 countries retained the death penalty for drug trafficking
, drug dealing
, drug possession
and related offences.
People are regularly sentenced to and executed for drug-related offences in China (both PRC and ROC), Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Vietnam.
Other countries may retain the death penalty for symbolic purposes.
The death penalty is mandated for drug trafficking in Singapore and Malaysia, though since 2013, Singapore ruled that those who were certified to be suffering from diminished responsibility (e.g. Major depressive disorder
) or acting as drug couriers and had assisted the authorities in tackling drug-related activities, will be sentenced to life imprisonment instead of the death, with the offender liable to at least 15 strokes of the cane if he was not sentenced to death and was simultaneously sentenced to caning as well. Notable drug couriers include Yong Vui Kong
, whose death sentence was replaced with a life sentence and 15 strokes of the cane in November 2013.
Other crimes that are punishable by death in some countries include:
- Use of firearms
- Crimes against the state, such as attempting to overthrow government (most countries with the death penalty)
- Political protests (Saudi Arabia)
- Rape (China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Brunei, etc.)
- Economic crimes (China, Iran)
- Human trafficking (China)
- Corruption (China, Iran)
- Kidnapping (China, Bangladesh, the US states of Georgia and Idaho, etc.)
- Separatism (China)
- Unlawful sexual behaviour (Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Qatar, Brunei, Nigeria, etc.)
- Religious Hudud offences such as apostasy (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, etc.)
- Blasphemy (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria)
- Moharebeh (Iran)
- Drinking alcohol (Iran)
- Witchcraft and sorcery (Saudi Arabia)
- Arson (Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, etc.)
- Hirabah/brigandage/armed and/or aggravated robbery (Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Ethiopia, the US state of Georgia etc.)
Controversy and debate
Capital punishment is controversial. Death penalty opponents regard the death penalty as inhumane
and criticize it for its irreversibility.
They argue also that capital punishment lacks deterrent effect,
discriminates against minorities and the poor, and that it encourages a "culture of violence".
There are many organizations worldwide, such as Amnesty International
and country-specific, such as the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU), that have abolition of the death penalty as a fundamental purpose.
Advocates of the death penalty argue that it deters crime,
is a good tool for police and prosecutors in plea bargaining
makes sure that convicted criminals do not offend again, and that it ensures justice for crimes such as homicide
, where other penalties will not inflict the desired retribution demanded by the crime itself. Capital punishment for non-lethal crimes is usually considerably more controversial, and abolished in many of the countries that retain it.
Some abolitionists argue that retribution is simply revenge and cannot be condoned. Others while accepting retribution as an element of criminal justice nonetheless argue that life without parole
is a sufficient substitute. It is also argued that the punishing of a killing with another death is a relatively unique punishment for a violent act, because in general violent crimes are not punished by subjecting the perpetrator to a similar act (e.g. rapists are, typically, not punished by corporal punishment
, although it may be inflicted in Singapore
, for example).
An execution is not simply death. It is just as different from the privation of life as a concentration camp is from prison. [...] For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.
And we may imagine somebody asking how we can teach people not to inflict suffering by ourselves inflicting it? But to this I should answer – all of us would answer – that to deter by suffering from inflicting suffering is not only possible, but the very purpose of penal justice. Does fining a criminal show want of respect for property, or imprisoning him, for personal freedom? Just as unreasonable is it to think that to take the life of a man who has taken that of another is to show want of regard for human life. We show, on the contrary, most emphatically our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself, and that while no other crime that he can commit deprives him of his right to live, this shall.
Trends in most of the world have long been to move to private and less painful executions. France developed the guillotine
for this reason in the final years of the 18th century, while Britain banned hanging, drawing, and quartering
in the early 19th century. Hanging
by turning the victim off a ladder or by kicking a stool or a bucket, which causes death by suffocation, was replaced by long drop "hanging"
where the subject is dropped a longer distance to dislocate the neck
and sever the spinal cord
. Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar
, Shah of Persia (1896–1907)
introduced throat-cutting and blowing from a gun
(close-range cannon fire) as quick and relatively painless alternatives to more torturous methods of executions used at that time.
In the United States, electrocution
and gas inhalation
were introduced as more humane alternatives to hanging, but have been almost entirely superseded by lethal injection
. A small number of countries still employ slow hanging methods, decapitation
, and stoning
A study of executions carried out in the United States between 1977 and 2001 indicated that at least 34 of the 749 executions, or 4.5%, involved "unanticipated problems or delays that caused, at least arguably, unnecessary agony for the prisoner or that reflect gross incompetence of the executioner". The rate of these "botched executions" remained steady over the period of the study.
A separate study published in The Lancet
in 2005 found that in 43% of cases of lethal injection, the blood level of hypnotics
was insufficient to guarantee unconsciousness.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled in 2008 (Baze v. Rees
) and again in 2015 (Glossip v. Gross
) that lethal injection does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment
In Bucklew v. Precythe
, the majority verdict - written by Judge Neil Gorsuch
- further affirmed this principle, stating that while the ban on cruel and unusual punishment affirmatively bans penalties that deliberately inflict
pain and degradation, it does in no sense limit the possible infliction of pain in the execution of a capital verdict.
Capital punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom in part because of the case of Timothy Evans
, who was executed in 1950 after being wrongfully convicted of two murders that had in fact been committed by his landlord, John Christie
. The case was considered vital in bolstering opposition, which limited the scope of the penalty in 1957 and abolished it completely, for murder, in 1965.
It is frequently argued that capital punishment leads to miscarriage of justice
through the wrongful execution of innocent persons.
Many people have been proclaimed innocent victims of the death penalty.
Some have claimed that as many as 39 executions have been carried out in the face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt in the US from 1992 through 2004. Newly available DNA evidence
prevented the pending execution of more than 15 death row
inmates during the same period in the US,
but DNA evidence is only available in a fraction of capital cases.
As of 2017, 159 prisoners on death row have been exonerated by DNA or other evidence, which is seen as an indication that innocent prisoners have almost certainly been executed.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty claims that between 1976 and 2015, 1,414 prisoners in the United States have been executed while 156 sentenced to death have had their death sentences vacated, indicating that more than one in ten death row inmates were wrongly sentenced.
It is impossible to assess how many have been wrongly executed, since courts do not generally investigate the innocence of a dead defendant, and defense attorneys tend to concentrate their efforts on clients whose lives can still be saved; however, there is strong evidence of innocence in many cases.
Improper procedure may also result in unfair executions. For example, Amnesty International
argues that in Singapore
"the Misuse of Drugs Act
contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused. This conflicts with the universally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty".
Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act presumes one is guilty of possession of drugs if, as examples, one is found to be present or escaping from a location "proved or presumed to be used for the purpose of smoking or administering a controlled drug", if one is in possession of a key to a premises where drugs are present, if one is in the company of another person found to be in possession of illegal drugs, or if one tests positive after being given a mandatory urine drug screening
. Urine drug screenings can be given at the discretion of police, without requiring a search warrant. The onus is on the accused in all of the above situations to prove that they were not in possession of or consumed illegal drugs.
Some prisoners have volunteered or attempted to expedite capital punishment, often by waiving all appeals. Prisoners have made requests or committed further crimes in prison as well. In the United States, execution volunteers constitute approximately 11% of prisoners on death row. Volunteers often bypass legal procedures which are designed to designate the death penalty for the "worst of the worst" offenders. Opponents of execution volunteering cited the prevalence of mental illness among volunteers comparing it to suicide. Execution volunteers have received considerably less attention and effort at legal reform than those who were exonerated after execution.
Racial, ethnic and social class bias
Opponents of the death penalty argue that this punishment is being used more often against perpetrators from racial and ethnic minorities and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, than against those criminals who come from a privileged background; and that the background of the victim also influences the outcome.
Researchers have shown that white Americans are more likely to support the death penalty when told that it is mostly applied to black Americans,
and that more stereotypically black-looking or darkskinned defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death if the case involves a white victim.
However, a study published in 2018 failed to replicate the findings of earlier studies that had concluded that white Americans are more likely to support the death penalty if informed that it is largely applied to black Americans; according to the authors, their findings "may result from changes since 2001 in the effects of racial stimuli on white attitudes about the death penalty or their willingness to express those attitudes in a survey context."
In Alabama in 2019, a death row inmate named Domineque Ray was denied his imam in the room during his execution, instead only offered a Christian chaplain.
After filing a complaint, a federal court of appeals ruled 5–4 against Ray's request. The majority cited the "last-minute" nature of the request, and the dissent stated that the treatment went against the core principle of denominational neutrality.
In July 2019, two Shiite
men, Ali Hakim al-Arab, 25, and Ahmad al-Malali, 24, were executed in Bahrain, despite the protests from the United Nations
and rights group. Amnesty International
stated that the executions were being carried out on confessions of "terrorism crimes" that were obtained through torture.
The United Nations
introduced a resolution
during the General Assembly's 62nd sessions in 2007 calling for a universal ban.
The approval of a draft resolution by the Assembly's third committee, which deals with human rights issues, voted 99 to 52, with 33 abstentions, in favour of the resolution on 15 November 2007 and was put to a vote in the Assembly on 18 December.
Again in 2008, a large majority of states from all regions adopted, on 20 November in the UN General Assembly (Third Committee), a second resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty; 105 countries voted in favour of the draft resolution, 48 voted against and 31 abstained.
A range of amendments proposed by a small minority of pro-death penalty countries were overwhelmingly defeated. It had in 2007 passed a non-binding resolution (by 104 to 54, with 29 abstentions) by asking its member states for "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".
A number of regional conventions prohibit the death penalty, most notably, the Sixth Protocol (abolition in time of peace) and the 13th Protocol (abolition in all circumstances) to the European Convention on Human Rights
. The same is also stated under the Second Protocol in the American Convention on Human Rights
, which, however, has not been ratified by all countries in the Americas, most notably Canada
and the United States. Most relevant operative international treaties do not require its prohibition for cases of serious crime, most notably, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
. This instead has, in common with several other treaties, an optional protocol prohibiting capital punishment and promoting its wider abolition.
Several international organizations have made the abolition of the death penalty (during the time of peace) a requirement of membership, most notably the EU
and the Council of Europe
. The EU and the Council of Europe are willing to accept a moratorium
as an interim measure. Thus, while Russia
is a member of the Council of Europe, and the death penalty remains codified in its law, it has not made use of it since becoming a member of the council – Russia has not executed anyone since 1996. With the exception of Russia (abolitionist in practice), Kazakhstan
(abolitionist for ordinary crimes only), and Belarus
(retentionist), all European countries are classified as abolitionist.
abolished de jure
the death penalty for war crimes in 2012, becoming the last EU member to do so.
The Protocol no.13 calls for the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances (including for war crimes). The majority of European countries have signed and ratified it. Some European countries have not done this, but all of them except Belarus and Kazakhstan have now abolished the death penalty in all circumstances (de jure
, and Russia de facto
is the most recent country to ratify the protocol, on 28 August 2013.
Signatories to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR: parties in dark green, signatories in light green, non-members in grey
Protocol no.6 which prohibits the death penalty during peacetime has been ratified by all members of the European Council, except Russia (which has signed, but not ratified).
, over 500 people were sentenced to death after the 1980 Turkish coup d'état
. About 50 of them were executed, the last one 25 October 1984. Then there was a de facto
moratorium on the death penalty in Turkey. As a move towards EU membership
, Turkey made some legal changes. The death penalty was removed from peacetime law by the National Assembly
in August 2002, and in May 2004 Turkey amended its constitution
in order to remove capital punishment in all circumstances. It ratified Protocol no. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights in February 2006. As a result, Europe is a continent free of the death penalty in practice, all states but Russia, which has entered a moratorium, having ratified the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, with the sole exception of Belarus
, which is not a member of the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
has been lobbying for Council of Europe observer states who practise the death penalty, the U.S. and Japan, to abolish it or lose their observer status. In addition to banning capital punishment for EU member states, the EU has also banned detainee transfers in cases where the receiving party may seek the death penalty.
countries that have recently abolished the death penalty include Burundi
, which abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2009,
which did the same in 2010.
On 5 July 2012, Benin
became part of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits the use of the death penalty.
The newly created South Sudan
is among the 111 UN member states that supported the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly that called for the removal of the death penalty, therefore affirming its opposition to the practice. South Sudan, however, has not yet abolished the death penalty and stated that it must first amend its Constitution, and until that happens it will continue to use the death penalty.
An open letter led by Danish Member of the European Parliament
, Karen Melchior was sent to the European Commission ahead of the 26 January 2021 meeting of the Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani with the members of the European Union
for the signing of a Cooperation Agreement. A total of 16 MEPs undersigned the letter expressing their grave concern towards the extended abuse of human rights in Bahrain following the arbitrary arrest and detention of activists and critics of the government. The attendees of the meeting were requested to demand from their Bahraini
counterparts to take into consideration the concerns raised by the MEPs, particularly for the release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Sheikh Mohammed Habib Al-Muqdad, the two European-Bahraini dual citizens on death row. 
The world's major faiths have differing views depending on the religion, denomination, sect
and/or the individual adherent. As an example, the world's largest Christian
, opposes capital punishment in all cases. Both the Baha'i and Islamic faiths support capital punishment.
Notes and references
- ^ Belarus
- ^ including Australia and New Zealand.
- ^ Most Latin American states and Canada have completely abolished capital punishment, while a few such as Brazil and Guatemala allow for it only in exceptional situations (such as treason committed during wartime).
- ^ The United States and some Caribbean countries.
- ^ For example South Africa abolished the death penalty in 1995, while Botswana and Zambia retain it.
- ^ For example, China, Japan and India actively retain it.
- ^ Kronenwetter 2001, p. 202
- ^ "Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries as of July 2018" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
- ^ "Death Penalty". Amnesty International. Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
- ^ "India: Death penalty debate won't die out soon". Asia Times. 13 August 2004. Archived from the original on 20 August 2004. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- ^ "Indonesian activists face upward death penalty trend". World Coalition against the Death Penalty. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- ^ "Legislators in U.S. state vote to repeal death penalty". International Herald Tribune. 29 March 2009. Archived from the original on 16 March 2009. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- ^ "The Death Penality in Japan". International Federation for Human Rights. Archived from the original on 28 August 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- ^ "Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union" (PDF). European Union. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 May 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- ^ A Record 120 Nations Adopt UN Death-Penalty Moratorium Resolution, 18 December 2018, Death Penalty Information Center
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- ^ "Criminal Justice: Capital Punishment Focus". criminaljusticedegreeschools.com. Archived from the original on 27 August 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
- ^ "Furman v. Georgia – MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring". law.cornell.edu. Archived from the original on 18 July 2017. Retrieved 19 July 2017. When this country was founded, memories of the Stuart horrors were fresh and severe corporal punishments were common. Death was not then a unique punishment. The practice of punishing criminals by death, moreover, was widespread and by and large acceptable to society. Indeed, without developed prison systems, there was frequently no workable alternative. Since that time, successive restrictions, imposed against the background of a continuing moral controversy, have drastically curtailed the use of this punishment.
- ^ So common was the practice of compensation that the word murder is derived from the French word mordre (bite) a reference to the heavy compensation one must pay for causing an unjust death. The "bite" one had to pay was used as a term for the crime itself: "Mordre wol out; that se we day by day." – Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400), The Canterbury Tales, The Nun's Priest's Tale, l. 4242 (1387–1400), repr. In The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Alfred W. Pollard, et al. (1898).
- ^ Translated from Waldmann, op.cit., p. 147.
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- ^ Genesis 9:6, "Whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed."
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