UN: Opposition to the death penalty continues to grow

The number of states voting for UN resolutions on halting executions worldwide continues to grow, signalling that consensus is building towards ending the death penalty once and for all, Amnesty International said today.  

The plenary session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) today adopted a resolution on a moratorium on executions, with a view to fully abolishing the death penalty, after 123 states voted in favour. In 2007, the first time a resolution on a moratorium for executions was adopted by UNGA, only 104 states voted in favour. 

Countries which still practice the death penalty must treat this as a wake-up call – state sponsored executions have no place in the modern world, or in any society committed to upholding human rights,” said Rajat Khosla, Amnesty International’s Senior Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy. 

This resolution brings us one step closer to consigning the death penalty, the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, to the history books. We call on states that retain the death penalty to immediately establish a moratorium on executions, as a first step towards abolishing its use completely.” 

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.  

Rising support 

This is the eighth time UNGA has adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty, since 2007. The number of states voting in favour of these resolutions has risen from 104 in 2007 to 121 in 2018 and 123 in 2020. 

UNGA resolutions carry considerable moral and political weight. The continued consideration of resolutions on this issue has ensured that abolishing the death penalty remains a human rights priority for the international community. 

The latest resolution was proposed by Mexico and Switzerland on behalf of an Inter-Regional Task Force of member states and co-sponsored by 77 states. 

State sponsored executions have no place in the modern world

Rajat Khosla, Senior Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy.

A total of 123 UN member states voted in favour of the resolution today, including Djibouti, Jordan, Lebanon and South Korea, which supported the resolution for the first time. Congo (Republic of), Guinea, Nauru and the Philippines, which abstained on or voted against the 2018 resolution, also supported the call today, while Yemen and Zimbabwe switched from opposition to abstention.

A minority of countries (38) voted against the proposal and 24 abstained at the vote. Some states that voted for or abstained in 2018 today voted against the resolution, including Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Libya, Pakistan, Tonga and Uganda. Niger switched from voting in favour in 2018 to abstention in 2020.  

Amnesty International’s analysis shows that use of the death penalty is declining worldwide. In 2019 the number of confirmed executions was the lowest recorded in at least 10 years, and a minority of countries – 20 – carried out executions. In 2019 executions were down 5% compared to 2018 – the fourth consecutive year-on-year reduction.  

However, some countries are bucking the trend. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Yemen significantly increased executions in 2019 compared to 2018; Bahrain and Bangladesh resumed executions after a one-year hiatus; and the legislature in the Philippines proposed bills to reintroduce the death penalty. The US federal government began its first pursuit of executions after 17 years, putting 10 men to death in 2020.   

States that continue to sentence people to death are bucking international trends, and today’s vote shows that the death penalty’s days are numbered,” said Rajat Khosla. 

“Today we have come one step closer towards global abolition. It’s time for all states to end this horrific practice for good.”