EXTERNAL AI Index: ACT 50/04/95
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FACTS AND FIGURES ON THE DEATH PENALTY
30 June 1995
1. Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries
Half the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in
law or practice.
Amnesty International's (AI's) latest information shows that:
* 55 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes
* 15 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but
exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes
* 27 countries can be considered abolitionist de facto: they retain
the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions
for the past 10 years or more
making a total of 97 countries which have abolished the death penalty in
law or practice.
* 97 other countries retain and use the death penalty, but the
number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one
year is much smaller (see below, item 4).
(Reference: List of Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries, AI Index:
ACT 50/01/95 [updated])
2. Progress Towards Worldwide Abolition
More than two countries a year on average have abolished the death
penalty in law since 1976 or, having abolished it for ordinary crimes, have
gone on to abolish it for all crimes.
21 countries have abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes or for
all crimes since 1989. They include countries in Africa (examples include
Namibia, Mozambique, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau), Latin America (Paraguay), Asia
(Cambodia, Nepal), eastern Europe (Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, the
Czech and Slovak republics), western Europe (Greece, Italy, Switzerland) and
the Pacific (New Zealand).
(Reference: List of Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries)
3. Moves to Reintroduce the Death Penalty
Once abolished the death penalty is seldom reintroduced. Since 1985, 24
countries have abolished the death penalty in law or, having previously
abolished it for ordinary crimes, have gone on to abolish it for all crimes.
During the same period only 3 abolitionist countries reintroduced the death
penalty. One of them - Nepal - has since abolished the death penalty again,
and there have been no executions in the other two (Papua New Guinea,
(References: List of Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries, p. 6; AI,
When the State Kills, pp. 86-90)
4. Death Sentences and Executions
During 1994, 2,331 prisoners are known to have been executed in 37
countries and 4,032 sentenced to death in 75 countries. These figures include
only cases known to AI; the true figures are certainly higher.
As in previous years, a small number of countries accounted for the vast
majority of executions recorded. AI received reports of 1,791 executions in
China, 139 executions in Iran and over 100 in Nigeria. These three countries
alone accounted for 87% of all executions recorded by AI worldwide in 1994.
AI received reports of several hundred executions in Iraq but was unable to
confirm most of these reports or to give an exact figure.
(Reference: Death Sentences and Executions in 1994, AI Index: ACT
5. Use of the Death Penalty Against Juveniles
International human rights treaties prohibit anyone under 18 years old
at the time of the crime being sentenced to death. The International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child all have provisions to this effect.
More than 100 countries have laws specifically excluding the execution of
juvenile offenders or may be presumed to exclude such executions by being
parties to one or another of the above treaties. A small number of countries,
however, continue to execute juvenile offenders.
5 countries since 1990 are known to have executed prisoners who were
under 18 years old at the time of the crime - Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, USA and Yemen. The majority of known executions of juvenile offenders was in
(Reference: USA: Developments on the death penalty during 1994, AI
Index: AMR 51/01/95, p. 12)
6. The Deterrence Argument
Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence
that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments.
The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death
penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the UN in 1988, concluded that "This
research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater
deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be
forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the
(References: AI,When the State Kills, pp. 5, 10-14; Roger Hood, The
Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989, p.
7. Effect of Abolition on Crime Rates
Reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of the
death penalty and crime rates, a study prepared for the UN in 1988 stated that
"the fact that all the evidence continues to point in the same direction is
persuasive a priori evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious
changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance on the death
Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that
abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, the homicide rate per 100,000
population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of
the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since thenit has remained
relatively stable. In 1993, 17 years after abolition, the homicide rate was
2.19 per 100,000 population, 27 per cent lower than in 1975. The total number
of homicides reported in the country fell in 1993 for the second straight
(References: AI, When the State Kills, pp.11-12 [updated]; Roger Hood,
The Death Penalty, p. 124, paragraph 148)
8. International Agreements to Abolish the Death Penalty
One of the most important developments in recent years has been the
adoption of international treaties whereby states commit themselves to not
having the death penalty. Three such treaties now exist:
* The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, which has now been ratified by 28 states. 4 other
states have signed the Protocol, indicating their intention to become
parties to it at a later date.
* The Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which has
now been ratified by 23 European states and signed by 3 others.
* The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the
Death Penalty, which has been ratified by 3 states in the Americas and
signed by 4 others.
The Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights is an
agreement to abolish the death penalty in peacetime. The other two protocols
provide for the total abolition of the death penalty but allow states wishing
to do so to retain the death penalty in wartime as an exception.
9. Execution of the Innocent
As long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the
innocent can never be eliminated.
350 people convicted of capital crimes in the USA between 1900 and 1985
were innocent of the crimes charged, according to a 1987 study. Some prisoners
escaped execution by minutes, but 23 were actually executed.
A US Congressional report by the House Subcommittee on Civil and
Constitutional Rights in October 1993 listed 48 condemned men who had been
freed from death row since 1972. The report blamed inadequate legal
safeguards to prevent wrongful executions and listed numerous inherent flaws
in the criminal justice system. The report concluded: "Judging by past
experience, a substantial number of death row inmates are indeed innocent, and
there is a high risk that some of them will be executed."
(References: AI, When the State Kills, p. 32; "United States of America:
Developments on the Death Penalty during 1993", AMR 51/02/94, p. 14)