Death Penalty

© Amnesty International/McCann Erickson Berlin
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Overview

Every day, people are executed by the state as punishment for a variety of crimes – sometimes for acts that should not be criminalized. In some countries it can be for who you sleep with, in others it is reserved for acts of terror and murder.

Some countries execute people who were under 18 years old when the crime was committed, others use the death penalty against people who suffer mental problems. Before people die they are often imprisoned for years on “death row”. Not knowing when their time is up, or whether they will see their families one last time.

The death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Amnesty opposes the death penalty at all times - regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.

We have been working to end executions since 1977, when only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Today, the number has risen to 140 - nearly two-thirds of countries around the world.

We know that, together, we can end the death penalty everywhere. Hafez Ibrahim was about to be executed in Yemen in 2007 when he sent a mobile text message to Amnesty. It was a message that saved his life. “I owe my life to Amnesty. Now I dedicate that life to campaigning against the death penalty.”

Artwork on the wall of Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli, Libya. 15 March, 2014. © Amnesty International

The problem

Why the Death Penalty is wrong

Denial of human rights. Sentencing someone to death denies them the right to life – enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Irreversible and mistakes happen. Execution is the ultimate, irrevocable punishment: the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated. Since 1973, for example, 150 US prisoners sent to death row have later been exonerated. Others have been executed despite serious doubts about their guilt.

Does not deter crime. Countries who execute commonly cite the death penalty as a way to deter people from committing crime. This claim has been repeatedly discredited, and there is no evidence that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than imprisonment.

The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.

Often used within skewed justice systems. Some of the countries executing the most people have deeply unfair legal systems. The ‘top’ three executing countries – China, Iran and Iraq – have issued death sentences after unfair trials. Many death sentences are issued after ‘confessions’ that have been obtained through torture.

Discriminatory. You are more likely to be sentenced to death if you are poor or belong to a racial, ethnic or religious minority because of discrimination in the justice system. Also, poor and marginalised groups have less access to the legal resources needed to defend themselves.

Used as a political tool. The authorities in some countries, for example Iran and Sudan, use the death penalty to punish political opponents.

Amnesty is calling for

  • Countries who still use the death penalty must immediately halt all executions.
  • Countries who have already stopped executing people, need to take this punishment off their legal books for all crimes, permanently.
  • All death sentences should be commuted to prison sentences.

The issue in detail

Execution methods

There are many and varied types of execution used around the world today, including:

• Beheading
• Electrocution
• Hanging
• Lethal injection
• Shooting in the back of the head and by firing squad

Death sentences and executions 2014

In 2014, governments increasingly resorted to the death penalty to combat crime and terrorism.

Read Amnesty's latest annual review of the death penalty worldwide.

Further reading

Executions of juveniles since 1990

Death penalty: Ratification of international treaties

The death penalty, questions and answers

The death penalty v. human rights: Why abolish the death penalty?  

Human rights v. the death penalty: Abolition and restriction in law and practice

The exclusion of child offenders from the death penalty under general international law

International standards on the death penalty

Constitutional prohibitions of the death penalty

Global moratorium on executions now 

Iran: 21-year old torture survivor Saman Naseem must be given a fair trial

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Iran: 21-year old torture survivor Saman Naseem must be given a fair trial

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Key facts

101

As of July 2015, 101 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

22

In 2014, at least 22 countries around the world carried out executions.

2,466

In 2014, at least 2,466 people were sentenced to death worldwide - up 28% on 2013.