The Death Penalty: An International Perspective

The Death Penalty: An International Perspective

"The Death Penalty: An International Perspective" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 14(1): 4-5 (Spring 1997). This article examines the use of capital punishment by other countries, showing which countries have abolished the death penalty, which currently retain it, and which nations are parties to international anti-death penalty treaties.

According to Amnesty International, during 1995 at least 2,931 individuals were executed throughout the world and 4,165 sentenced to death. These figures include only those known to Amnesty International; the actual figures are probably higher. Three countries were responsible for 86 per cent of the executions: China, 2,535; Saudi Arabia, 192; and Nigeria, over 100.

Since 1990, five countries are known to have executed individuals who were younger than 18 at the time of the crime: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen. The largest number of known executions of juvenile offenders was in the United States - 6 since 1990.

According to Amnesty International, over half the nations in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice. By October 1996, 58 countries and territories had abolished the death penalty completely, and 15 had abolished it for all but exceptional crimes such as certain crimes committed during time of war. Twenty-six countries retained the death penalty in law but had not invoked it for the past ten years or had made an international commitment not to carry out executions. In October 1996, 95 countries retained and continued to use the death penalty.

Since 1985 over 25 countries have legally abolished the death penalty or, having abolished it previously for ordinary crimes, have now revoked it for all crimes. Over the same period four countries reintroduced capital punishment, but one of these four again abolished it.

Table 1. Countries Which Have Abolished the Death Penalty, 1996
Table 2. Countries Which Retain the Death Penalty, 1996

Several international treaties prohibit the execution of anyone who was younger than 18 at the time of the offense: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the American Convention on Human Rights; and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. More than 100 countries have specifically prohibited the execution of juveniles or have signed one of these treaties, indicating acceptance of the prohibition.

Table 3. International Treaties on the Death Penalty, 1996