Whatever form it takes – hanging, lethal injection, beheading, stoning or electrocution – the death penalty is a violent punishment that has no place in today’s criminal justice system.Read More
The issue in depth
When Amnesty started campaigning against the death penalty back in 1977, only 16 countries had abolished it. Today, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
Unfortunately while the abolitionist movement has made significant progress over that time, the countries that still execute prisoners are doing so at alarming rates.
Executions don’t deter criminals
There’s no scientific evidence to show that that the death penalty deters crime any more than other punishments, like life behind bars.
Crime figures from abolitionist countries show that ending the death penalty is not followed by a spike in crime. In fact, in Canada the homicide rate in 2015 is almost half that in 1976, the year the death penalty was abolished there.
Innocents awaiting execution
The death penalty is irreversible. All legal systems make mistakes, so as long as it exists, innocent people will be executed.
In 2019 at least 11 exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death were recorded in two countries: USA and Zambia.
In the USA, 151 people have been released from death rows since 1973 due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. Some of them had spent many years on death row and had come close to being executed.
Powerless and poor
Research has shown that people have been sentenced to death after being tortured into ‘confessing’ to crimes, and after unfair or politically-motivated trials.
The death penalty is often used disproportionately against the poor, powerless and marginalised, or by repressive governments to eliminate or silence dissent.
Children facing the death penalty
International human rights treaties prohibit courts sentencing to death or executing anyone who was under the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed. But a small number of countries continue to execute child offenders.
We know of nine countries since 1990 that have executed prisoners who were under 18 at the time the crime was committed – China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United States of America and Yemen. Several of these countries have since changed their laws to exclude the practice.
Australia’s role in the cause
In the wake of 2015’s executions in Indonesia, Amnesty and a number of human rights organisations released a joint paper, which outlined a number of steps the Australian government should take to effectively campaign against the death penalty worldwide. Thousands of Amnesty supporters signed a petition echoing these calls.
Following our petition, the Australian government asked the Parliament to launch an inquiry into what Australia could do in the worldwide campaign against the death penalty. In May 2016, the Parliamentary Committee released its report, A world without the death penalty – Australian’s Advocacy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, containing a number of recommendations to the Australian government – many of which Amnesty has been calling for.
Importantly, the report called for changes to the way the Australian Federal Police (AFP) shares information with its international counterparts. The Committee recommends that for drug-related crimes, the AFP should never share information unless they’ve received a commitment that the death penalty will not be pursued.
The report also called on Australia to play a leading role at the United Nations in advocating for worldwide abolition, and for Australia to directly pressure countries which still practice capital punishment.
In March 2017, the Australian government provided its response to the recommendations of the report. The response made some positive steps, but it also contained setbacks. While the Australian government committed to a whole of government strategy of advocating against the death penalty, it rejected the recommendations related to when law enforcement can share information on drug-related crimes. Had they been followed, these recommendations would have closed the door on another Bali 9-type situation ever occurring again.Close
Last year, nearly 90 percent of all executions happened in just four countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.Read More
Small number of countries resort to executions
In 2019 China remained the world’s leading executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret; the global figure of at least 657 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.
Excluding China, 86% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.
Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of executions doubled in Iran and Iraq, and Iran retained its place as the world’s second most prolific executioner.
Other major executing countries, including Iran, North Korea and Viet Nam, continued to hide the full extent of their use of the death penalty by restricting access to death penalty information.Close
What we’re asking
Amnesty is calling for countries that still use the death penalty to immediately halt all executions, countries that have stopped executing people to permanently remove this punishment for all crimes, and for all death sentences to be commuted to prison sentences.Read More
The road to abolition
When Amnesty took up the global campaign to abolish the death penalty in 1977, only 16 countries had removed it from their laws. Forty years later, that figure is now 104 countries.That includes countries in Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Africa and the Americas – places such as the Bhutan, Samoa, Albania, Serbia, Turkey, Liberia, Rwanda, Canada, Paraguay and Mexico.
The trend towards abolition remains strong but we must continue to pressure governments in countries where the death penalty still exists, until universal abolition is realised. Will you join us?Close
What's the latest
Amnesty International’s report on death sentences and executions in 2019 reveals a global trend away from the death penalty, as global executions decreased for the fourth consecutive yearRead More
The death penalty in 2019
Amnesty International’s report on death sentences and executions in 2019 reveals a global trend away from the death penalty, as global executions decreased for the fourth consecutive year
Just twenty countries are responsible for all known executions worldwide. Among them, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen executed significantly more people in 2019 than in 2018.
Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people in 2019, despite an overall decline in executions worldwide. The Saudi authorities put 184 people to death last year, the highest number Amnesty has ever recorded in a single year in the country.
The majority of executions were for drug-related offences and murder. However, Amnesty International also documented the increased use of the death penalty as a political weapon against dissidents from Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim minority.
These states are however bucking a global trend which saw global executions decrease for the fourth consecutive year to at least 657 in 2019 from at least 690 in 2018 — the lowest recorded figure of the past decade.Close
Global abolition in reach
Every day we come closer to a world without the death penalty.Read More
Slowly but steadily, consensus is building towards ending the use of the death penalty
In 2019, for the first time since 2011, there was a drop in the number of executing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with seven reporting executions during the year. Japan and Singapore sharply reduced the numbers of people they executed, from 15 to 3, and 13 to 4, respectively.
No executions were carried out in Afghanistan for the first time since 2010. Hiatuses were also reported in Taiwan and Thailand which both executed people in 2018; while Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Malaysia and Gambia continued to respect official moratoriums on executions.
Moreover, several countries took positive steps towards ending the use of the death penalty in 2019.
The President of Equatorial Guinea announced in April that his government would introduce legislation to abolish the death penalty. Positive developments, which may lead to the abolition of the death penalty, also occurred in Central African Republic, Kenya, Gambia and Zimbabwe.
Barbados also removed the mandatory death penalty from its Constitution.
We must continue the momentum for the global abolition of the death penalty. Together, we can end the death penalty everywhere.Close