International Data on the Death Penalty

International Data on the Death Penalty

"International Data on the Death Penalty" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 16(1): 4-6 (Spring 1999). An examination of 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 the most recent figures assembled by Amnesty International, more than half the countries in the world no longer use the death penalty. The international human rights organization, which opposes the death penalty, regularly gathers and publishes data on its status and use throughout the world. In February 1999, the division between abolitionist and retentionist countries was as follows:

  • 67 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;
  • 14 countries have abolished it for all but exceptional crimes such as certain offenses committed during time of war;
  • 23 countries can be considered to be abolitionist de facto, because although they retain the death penalty in law, they have not carried out executions for the past ten years or more;
  • 91 countries retain and use the death penalty.
Table 1. Countries Which Retain the Death Penalty, 1999

During 1997, the last year for which figures are available, at least 2607 persons were executed in 40 countries and 4363 sentenced to death in 69 countries. These numbers include only the cases which can be verified by Amnesty International. The organization believes that the true figures would be higher.

Four countries accounted for 85 per cent of all executions officially recorded by the organization: China (1876), Iran (143), Saudi Arabia (122), and the United States (74). The organization also received reports of hundreds of executions in Iraq but could not verify most of these reports.

According to Amnesty International, the death penalty is rarely reinstated once it has been abolished. Since 1985, only four countries have reintroduced the death penalty and of those four, one—Nepal—later abolished it again.

Execution of Juveniles

More than 100 countries have laws which specifically prohibit the execution of juvenile offenders or are parties to one or another of the international human rights treaties which prohibit the use of the death penalty against anyone who was under 18 years old at the time of the crime.

From 1990 to 1998 six countries are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 at the time of the offense: Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Yemen. The United States executed the highest number of juvenile offenders during that period—10 since 1990, according to Amnesty International.

Table 3. International Treaties on the Death Penalty, 1997