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. As of April 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice – a trend that must continue.
Unfortunately while the abolitionist movement has made significant progress over that time, the countries that still execute 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.
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, and so as long as the death penalty exists, innocent people will be executed.
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
In 2020, while the world was focused on saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries were busy taking lives.Read More
Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia accounted for 88% of known global executions in 2020
Excluding China, where the death penalty is a state secret, 437 out of the 483 total recorded executions worldwide took place in the Middle East and North Africa in 2020.
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa ruthlessly persisted with executions, defying the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, making them some of the world’s most prolific executioners.
There was a significant spike in recorded executions in Egypt -with a more than threefold rise from 32 in 2019 to 107 in 2020 overtaking Saudi Arabia to become the world’s third most frequent executioner last year. During a spike in executions in October and November, Egyptian authorities executed at least 57 people –nearly double the number of people known to have been put to death in Egypt in the whole of 2019.
Iran which carried out at least 246 executions retained its place as the top executing country in Middle East and the second worldwide after China.
In an alarming step backwards, Qatar carried out its first execution in 20 years putting to death Anil Chaudhary, a Nepali national and Oman executed four people for the first time since 2015.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
At least 483 people were known to have been executed in 2020.Read More
The death penalty in 2020
Globally, at least 483 people were known to have been executed in 2020.
Globally, at least 483 people were known to have been executed in 2020. This number excludes countries where death penalty data is classified as a state secret, or where limited information is available – China, North Korea, Syria and Viet Nam.
This is the lowest number of executions recorded by Amnesty International in at least a decade. It represents a decrease of 26% compared to 2019, and 70% from the high-peak of 1,634 executions in 2015.
ccording to the report, the fall in executions was down to a reduction in executions in some retentionist countries and, to a lesser extent, some hiatuses in executions that occurred in response to the pandemic.
The number of death sentences known to have been imposed worldwide (at least 1,477) was also down by 36% compared to 2019.Close
Global abolition in reach
Every and 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
As of April 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice.
We must continue the momentum for the global abolition of the death penalty. Together, we can end the death penalty everywhere.Close
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