Use of the death penalty around the world (as of 2012).
Green Abolished for all offenses** (97)
light green Abolished for all offenses except under special circumstances (8)
orange Retains, though not used for at least 10 years (35)
Brown Retains death penalty (58)*
The countries that use the death penalty. Blue: No death penalty, Green: No death penalty, except in wartime, Orange: death penalty, but no people executed in the last 10 years, Red:Death penalty for certain crimes
Death penalty, also called capital punishment, is when a government or state executes (kills) someone, usually because he or she has done a serious crime, such as murder.
Anarchist Auguste Vaillant guillotined in France in 1894
Executions in most countries have become rarer in recent centuries. The death penalty is a disputed and controversial topic.
About one third of the countries in the world have laws that allow the death penalty. The United States, The People’s Republic of China, Japan and Iran are examples of countries that have a death penalty. Canada, Australia, Mexico and all members of Council of Europe are examples of countries that have abolished the death penalty.
The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883). Roman Colosseum.
Over half the countries in the world have gotten rid of the death penalty in law and practice: 75 countries have gotten rid of the capital punishment for all crimes and another 20 can be considered abolitionist in practice. The latter retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more.
Most of the countries that have a death penalty use it on murderers, and for other serious crimes such as rape or terrorism. Other countries especially ones with Authoritarian or Totalitarian governments, however, also use it for smaller crimes like theft, drugs, or for saying bad things about the government.
Which countries execute the most people?
Since World War II there has been a trend toward abolishing the death penalty. In 1977, 16 countries were abolitionist. According to information published by Amnesty International in 2012, 97 countries had abolished capital punishment altogether, 8 had done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 36 had not used it for at least 10 years or were under a moratorium. The other 57 retained the death penalty in active use.
Hanged, drawn and quartered the execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger, as depicted in the Froissart of Louis of Gruuthuse.
According to Amnesty International, only 21 countries were known to have had executions carried out in 2012. In addition, there are countries which do not publish information on the use of capital punishment, most significantly China. At least 18,750 people worldwide were under sentence of death at the beginning of 2012.
Ling Chi – execution by slow slicing – in Beijing around 1910.
Rank Country Number executed in 2012
1 People’s Republic of China 4,000+Officially not released.
2 Iran 614+
3 Iraq 129+
4 Saudi Arabia 79+
5 United States 43
6 Yemen 28+
7 Sudan 19+
8 Afghanistan 44
9 Gambia 9
10 Japan 7
11 North Korea 6+
12 Somalia 6+
13 Palestinian Authority 6
14 Republic of China (Taiwan) 6
15 South Sudan 5+
16 Belarus 3+
17 Botswana 2
18 Bangladesh 1
19 India 1
20 Pakistan 1
21 United Arab Emirates 1
The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly restrained in some retentionist countries including Taiwan and Singapore. Indonesia carried out no executions between November 2008 and March 2013. Japan and 32 out of 50 states in the United States are the only OECD members that are classified by Amnesty International as ‘retentionist’ (South Korea is classified as ‘abolitionist in practice’). Nearly all of 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 rank of abolitionist countries.
The burning of Jakob Rohrbach, a leader of the peasants during the German Peasants’ War.
This was soon followed by the fall of communism in Europe. Many of the countries which restored democracy aspired to enter the EU. The European Union 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 on the present day territory of the Council of Europe has taken place in 1997 in Ukraine. On the other hand, rapid industrialisation in Asia has been increasing the number of developed retentionist countries. In these countries, the death penalty enjoys strong public support, and the matter receives little attention from the government or the media; in China there is a small but 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 is high.
An Aztec adulterer being stoned to death; Florentine Codex.
Some countries have resumed practicing the death penalty after having suspended executions for long periods. The United States suspended executions in 1972 but resumed them in 1976, then again on 25 September 2007 to 16 April 2008; there was no execution in India between 1995 and 2004; and Sri Lanka declared an end to itsmoratorium on the death penalty on 20 November 2004, although it has not yet performed any executions. The Philippines re-introduced the death penalty in 1993 after abolishing it in 1987, but abolished it again in 2006.
In May 2013, Papua New Guinea lawmakers voted to introduce the death penalty for crimes such as rape, robbery and sorcery-related murder, and introduce punishments such as electrocution, firing squad and suffocation.
A map showing the use of capital punishment in the US.
Red; State uses death penalty
Blue: State doesn’t use death penalty
In 2012, Japan and the US were the only countries in the G8 to have carried out executions; and the US was the only country to have carried out executions in the Americas. In 2012, there were 43 executions in the US, which have taken place in nine states: Arizona (6), Delaware (1), Florida (3), Idaho (1), Mississippi (6), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (6), South Dakota (2), Texas (15).
The breaking wheel was used during the Middle Ages and was still in use into the 19th century.
The latest country to move towards abolition is Mongolia. In January 2012, its Parliament adopted a bill providing for the death penalty to be abolished.
Common reasons for execution
It is common to have people executed for crimes like murder, but there are also other crimes that carry the death penalty. Some of these are:
• Bank robbery (Saudi Arabia)
• Trafficking inhuman beings (this is like slavery) (China)
• General robbery if at least one person dies (America)
• Rape (China, Saudi Arabia)
• Trafficking or possessing certain illegal drugs in a certain quantity (Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and others)
• Bribery and Corruption (China)
• Adultery (Saudi-Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan)
• Homosexuality (Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and Mauritania)
• Prostitution (both prostituting oneself and forcing others to do the same) (Iraq until 2003, Saudi Arabia)
• Apostasy in Islam (Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, Somalia and Sudan)
• Witchcraft (Saudi Arabia, Qatar)
Mexican execution by firing squad, 1916
During war time, the following crimes are punished by death:
The execution of Stanislaus Lacroix, March 21, 1902, Hull, Quebec. At top right, onlookers watch from telephone poles.
Who may not be executed
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that became valid in 1976, people that were not at least eighteen years old at the time they committed the crime may not be executed. According to the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically its 13th amendment (2002), no one must be executed.
Some people think the death penalty is a good thing, and others think it is a bad thing. Many people on both sides of the argument have very strong feelings. One side says the death penalty is good because it scares people away from doing things that could get them killed, the other side says there’s a potential of executing an innocent man; one says justice, retribution, and punishment; the other side says that execution is murder. Most people know the threat of crime to their lives, but the question lies in the methods and action that should be used to deal with it.
Throughout human history, governments and rulers have used many death penalty methods to execute people, such as crucifixion, flaying, and hanging. Some methods like crucifixion except by terrorists and flaying are no longer used by governments, because people think that these methods of killing are too cruel. The gas chamber was found unconstitutional in the United States (that is: against the United States constitution not allowing “cruel and unusual punishments”) and is no longer used.
Old Sparky, the electric chair used at Sing Sing prison.
The Council of Europe has abolished all death penalty by 13th amendment of the European Convention on Human Rights. Amnesty International oppose all death penalty on ground of the right to life and prohibition of all tortures or any cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment insisted by Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Forms of execution
A mannequin is placed in a garrote to demonstrate the position of a human in the device
The following forms of execution are in use today:
• Electric chair: The prisoner is killed by a strong source of electricity attached to their head and leg.
• Lethal injection: The prisoner is poisoned with a mix of chemicals that are put into their body. Some countries use chemicals that cause controversy.
• Firing squad: Some people shoot the prisoner with rifles. Firing squads are often used as the death penalty for soldiers during wars. One or more of those firing may have false ammunition that does not kill to make sure that nobody can brag with a decisive shot. Firing squad is traditional military execution, and often deserters, traitors and spies are shot.
A gurney in the San Quentin State Prison in the United States on which prisoners are restrained during an execution by lethal injection
• Hanging: The prisoner has a rope tied around their neck. They are then dropped from a height. They die because their neck is broken or through choking (asphyxiation), if the drop is too small or knot was badly made. If the drop is too long or the prisoner too heavy, the result may be their head being torn off. Japan, India and former British colonies use hanging.
• Strangulation, by hand or by garrote. The garrote was the principal device used for capital punishment in Spain for hundreds of years. Originally, it was an execution where the convict was killed by hitting him with a club (garrote in Spanish). This later developed into a strangulation device, where the condemned was tied to a wooden stake, with a loop of rope placed around his neck. A wooden stick was placed in the loop, and by rotating the stick, the rope was tightened until the condemned person was strangled to death.
Two syrians crucified yesterday by Al Qaida Terrorists
• Stoning: Stones are thrown at the prisoner until they die. Stoning is still used in some Middle Eastern countries.
• Decapitation: The victim has his or her head cut off with a sharp blade, such as sword, axe or guillotine. This was the traditional means of execution in Central Europe. Decapitation is also called beheading. Decapitation still used today in some Middle Eastern countries.