Updated: Jan 19
Capital punishment, also called the death penalty, execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense. The sentence order that someone is punished with the death penalty is called a death sentence, and the act of carrying out such a sentence is known as an execution.
Etymologically, the term capital describes execution by beheading, but executions are carried out by many methods including hanging, shooting, lethal injection, stoning, electrocution, and gassing.
The first established death penalty laws date as far back as the Eighteenth Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, which codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes.
Thirty-five countries retain capital punishment, 108 countries have completely abolished it de jure for all crimes, seven have abolished it for ordinary crimes (while maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes), and 47 are abolitionist in practice. Although most nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world's population live in countries where the death penalty is retained, such as China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, as well as in Japan and Taiwan.
Arguments For And Against Capital Punishment
Capital punishment has long engendered considerable debate about both its morality and its effect on criminal behavior. Contemporary arguments for and against capital punishment fall under three general headings: moral, utilitarian, and practical.
The Abolition Movement
Under the influence of the European Enlightenment, in the latter part of the 18th century there began a movement to limit the scope of capital punishment. Until that time a very wide range of offenses, including even common theft, was punishable by death—though the punishment was not always enforced, in part because juries tended to acquit defendants against the evidence in minor cases. In 1794 the U.S. state of Pennsylvania became the first jurisdiction to restrict the death penalty to first-degree murder, and in 1846 the state of Michigan abolished capital punishment for all murders and other common crimes. In 1863 Venezuela became the first country to abolish capital punishment for all crimes, including serious offenses against the state (e.g., treason and military offenses in time of war). San Marino was the first European country to abolish the death penalty, doing so in 1865; by the early 20th century several other countries, including the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy, had followed suit (though it was reintroduced in Italy under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini). By the mid-1960s some 25 countries had abolished the death penalty for murder, though only about half of them also had abolished it for offenses against the state or the military code. For example, Britain abolished capital punishment for murder in 1965, but treason, piracy, and military crimes remained capital offenses until 1998.
How many countries still have it?
Official data isn't available out of China, where death penalty statistics are a state secret, but the human rights organization Amnesty International estimates it carried out thousands of executions in 2019.
Excluding China, three countries were responsible for more than 80% of executions - Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran.
According to Amnesty's figures, China consistently executes more people than any other country.
Amnesty collects its statistics using official figures, media reports and information passed on from individuals sentenced to death and their families and representatives.
Saudi Arabia was the only country to list beheading as the method of execution.
Other methods included hanging, lethal injection, and shooting.
In the US, six states carried out executions by lethal injection in 2019, and one state (Tennessee) used electrocution.
In total 25 people were executed in the US in 2019, and for the 11th consecutive year, it was the only country in the Americas to implement the death penalty.
Since 2013, 33 countries have carried out at least one execution.
Excluding the China estimates, executions have been falling since 2015.
657 executions were recorded in 2019. That's down 5% in 2018, and represented the lowest number in more than a decade.
According to Amnesty, there are:
106 countries where the use of the death penalty is not allowed by law
8 countries that permit the death penalty only for serious crimes in exceptional circumstances, such as those committed during times of war
28 countries that have death penalty laws but haven't executed anyone for at least 10 years, and a policy or more formal commitment not to execute
56 countries that retain death penalty laws and either carry out executions or the authorities have not made an official declaration not to execute
Amnesty includes five non-UN-member countries in their figures.
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