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, over 140 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 has fallen by 40 percent since 1975, the year before the death penalty for murder was abolished.
Innocent awaiting execution
The death penalty is irreversible. All legal systems make mistakes, so as long as it exists, innocent people will be executed.
In the US, 124 death row prisoners have been released since 1973 after evidence of their innocence emerged. 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 that, since 1990, have executed prisoners who were under 18 at the time the crime was committed – they are 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, which contained a number of recommendations to the Australian government – many of which Amnesty has been calling for.
Importantly, the report calls 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 calls 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.
The Australian government should respond to the report in early 2017.Close
In 2015, countries around the world recorded the highest number of executions in 25 years, according to our tracking. Executions rose by 54 percent, with at least 573 more people killed than in 2014. Nearly 90 percent of all executions happened in just three countries: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.Read More
These figures exclude China, where numbers remain a state secret. However, available information indicates that thousands of people are executed and sentenced to death in China every year.
Despite the worldwide trend away from the death penalty, each year in Asia an alarming number of people are sentenced to death or executed for a wide range of crimes – often following the use of torture or unfair trials.
In recent years, record numbers of people have been sentenced to death for drug-related offences, including Australians Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and six other prisoners – Zainal Abidin, Rodrigo Gularte, Sylvester Obekwe Nwolise, Raheem Agbaje Salami, Okwudili Oyatanze and Martin Anderson – in Indonesia in April 2015.
International law says that the death penalty can only be used for the “most serious crimes”, like murder. The United Nations have repeatedly said that drug crime doesn’t meet that threshold.
Worse still, people continue to be executed for things that should never be criminalised at all, such as adultery, blasphemy and corruption.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
Since 1990 more than 40 countries have done away with the death penalty for all crimes.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.
In 2015, four countries – Madagascar, Fiji, Suriname, and the Congo – abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
In May 2016, Nauru introduced the new Crimes Act 2016 which saw the substitution of the death penalty with life imprisonment as the punishment for murder, removing the death penalty from their laws. The formal removal of the death penalty makes Nauru the 103rd country to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
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