Capital punishment

"Death penalty", "Death sentence", "Execute", and "Execution" redirect here. For other uses, see Death penalty (disambiguation), Death sentence (disambiguation), Execute (disambiguation), and Execution (disambiguation).

Execution, legal
ICD-10-PCS Y35.5

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a government sanctioned practice whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. The sentence that someone be punished in such a manner is referred to as a death sentence, whereas the act of carrying out the sentence is known as an execution. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital is derived from the Latin capitalis ("of the head", referring to execution by beheading).[1]

Fifty-eight countries retain capital punishment, 102 countries have completely abolished it de jure for all crimes, six have abolished it for ordinary crimes (while maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes), and 32 are abolitionist in practice.[2]

Capital punishment is a matter of active controversy in various countries and states, and positions can vary within a single political ideology or cultural region. In the European Union, Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment.[3] Also, the Council of Europe, which has 47 member states, prohibits the use of the death penalty by its members.

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted, in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014,[4] non-binding resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions, with a view to eventual abolition.[5] Although most nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world's population live in countries where executions take place, such as China, India, the United States and Indonesia.[6][7][8][9][10]

  Retentionist countries: 58
  Abolitionist in practice countries (have not executed anyone during the last 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions): 32
  Abolitionist countries except for crimes committed under exceptional circumstances (such as crimes committed in wartime): 6
  Abolitionist countries: 102


Anarchist Auguste Vaillant guillotined in France in 1894

Execution of criminals and political opponents has been used by nearly all societies—both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. In most countries that practise capital punishment it is reserved for murder, espionage, treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries sexual crimes, such as rape, adultery, incest and sodomy, carry the death penalty, as do religious crimes such as apostasy in Islamic nations (the formal renunciation of the state religion). In many countries that use the death penalty, drug trafficking is also a capital offence. In China, human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are punished by the death penalty. In militaries around the world courts-martial have imposed death sentences for offences such as cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny.[11]

The use of formal execution extends to the beginning of recorded history. Most historical records and various primitive tribal practices indicate that the death penalty was a part of their justice system. Communal punishment for wrongdoing generally included compensation by the wrongdoer, corporal punishment, shunning, banishment and execution. Usually, compensation and shunning were enough as a form of justice.[12] The response to crime committed by neighbouring tribes or communities included a formal apology, compensation or blood feuds.

A blood feud or vendetta occurs when arbitration between families or tribes fails or an arbitration system is non-existent. This form of justice was common before the emergence of an arbitration system based on state or organized religion. It may result from crime, land disputes or a code of honour. "Acts of retaliation underscore the ability of the social collective to defend itself and demonstrate to enemies (as well as potential allies) that injury to property, rights, or the person will not go unpunished."[13] However, in practice, it is often difficult to distinguish between a war of vendetta and one of conquest.

Severe historical penalties include breaking wheel, boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, disembowelment, crucifixion, impalement, crushing (including crushing by elephant), stoning, execution by burning, dismemberment, sawing, decapitation, scaphism, necklacing or blowing from a gun.

Ancient history

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883). Roman Colosseum.

Elaborations of tribal arbitration of feuds included peace settlements often done in a religious context and compensation system. Compensation was based on the principle of substitution which might include material (for example, cattle, slave) compensation, exchange of brides or grooms, or payment of the blood debt. Settlement rules could allow for animal blood to replace human blood, or transfers of property or blood money or in some case an offer of a person for execution. The person offered for execution did not have to be an original perpetrator of the crime because the system was based on tribes, not individuals. Blood feuds could be regulated at meetings, such as the Norsemen things.[14] Systems deriving from blood feuds may survive alongside more advanced legal systems or be given recognition by courts (for example, trial by combat). One of the more modern refinements of the blood feud is the duel.

In certain parts of the world, nations in the form of ancient republics, monarchies or tribal oligarchies emerged. These nations were often united by common linguistic, religious or family ties. Moreover, expansion of these nations often occurred by conquest of neighbouring tribes or nations. Consequently, various classes of royalty, nobility, various commoners and slave emerged. Accordingly, the systems of tribal arbitration were submerged into a more unified system of justice which formalized the relation between the different "classes" rather than "tribes". The earliest and most famous example is Code of Hammurabi which set the different punishment and compensation, according to the different class/group of victims and perpetrators. The Torah (Jewish Law), also known as the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Christian Old Testament), lays down the death penalty for murder, kidnapping, magic, violation of the Sabbath, blasphemy, and a wide range of sexual crimes, although evidence suggests that actual executions were rare.[15]

A further example comes from Ancient Greece, where the Athenian legal system was first written down by Draco in about 621 BC: the death penalty was applied for a particularly wide range of crimes, though Solon later repealed Draco's code and published new laws, retaining only Draco's homicide statutes.[16] The word draconian derives from Draco's laws. The Romans also used death penalty for a wide range of offences.[17]

Tang dynasty

Although many are executed in the People's Republic of China each year in the present day, there was a time in the Tang dynasty when the death penalty was abolished.[18] This was in the year 747, enacted by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (r. 712–756). When abolishing the death penalty Xuanzong ordered his officials to refer to the nearest regulation by analogy when sentencing those found guilty of crimes for which the prescribed punishment was execution. Thus depending on the severity of the crime a punishment of severe scourging with the thick rod or of exile to the remote Lingnan region might take the place of capital punishment. However, the death penalty was restored only 12 years later in 759 in response to the An Lushan Rebellion.[19] At this time in the Tang dynasty only the emperor had the authority to sentence criminals to execution. Under Xuanzong capital punishment was relatively infrequent, with only 24 executions in the year 730 and 58 executions in the year 736.[18]

The two most common forms of execution in the Tang dynasty were strangulation and decapitation, which were the prescribed methods of execution for 144 and 89 offences respectively. Strangulation was the prescribed sentence for lodging an accusation against one's parents or grandparents with a magistrate, scheming to kidnap a person and sell them into slavery and opening a coffin while desecrating a tomb. Decapitation was the method of execution prescribed for more serious crimes such as treason and sedition. Despite the great discomfort involved, most of the Tang Chinese preferred strangulation to decapitation, as a result of the traditional Tang Chinese belief that the body is a gift from the parents and that it is, therefore, disrespectful to one's ancestors to die without returning one's body to the grave intact.

Some further forms of capital punishment were practised in the Tang dynasty, of which the first two that follow at least were extralegal. The first of these was scourging to death with the thick rod which was common throughout the Tang dynasty especially in cases of gross corruption. The second was truncation, in which the convicted person was cut in two at the waist with a fodder knife and then left to bleed to death.[20] A further form of execution called Ling Chi (slow slicing), or death by/of a thousand cuts, was used from the close of the Tang dynasty (around 900) to its abolition in 1905.

When a minister of the fifth grade or above received a death sentence the emperor might grant him a special dispensation allowing him to commit suicide in lieu of execution. Even when this privilege was not granted, the law required that the condemned minister be provided with food and ale by his keepers and transported to the execution ground in a cart rather than having to walk there.

Nearly all executions under the Tang dynasty took place in public as a warning to the population. The heads of the executed were displayed on poles or spears. When local authorities decapitated a convicted criminal, the head was boxed and sent to the capital as proof of identity and that the execution had taken place.[20]

Middle Ages

The burning of Jakob Rohrbach, a leader of the peasants during the German Peasants' War.
The breaking wheel was used during the Middle Ages and was still in use into the 19th century.

In medieval and early modern Europe, before the development of modern prison systems, the death penalty was also used as a generalized form of punishment. During the reign of Henry VIII of England, as many as 72,000 people are estimated to have been executed.[21]

During early modern Europe, a massive moral panic regarding witchcraft swept across Europe and later the European colonies in North America. During this period, there were widespread claims that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom. As a result, tens of thousands of women were prosecuted and executed through the witch trials of the early modern period (between the 15th and 18th centuries).

The death penalty also targeted sexual offences such as sodomy. In England, the Buggery Act 1533 stipulated hanging as punishment for "buggery". James Pratt and John Smith were the last two Englishmen to be executed for sodomy in 1835.[22]

Despite the wide use of the death penalty, calls for reform were not unknown. The 12th century Jewish legal scholar, Moses Maimonides, wrote, "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent man to death." He argued that executing an accused criminal on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice". Maimonides's concern was maintaining popular respect for law, and he saw errors of commission as much more threatening than errors of omission.[23]

Islam on the whole accepts capital punishment,[24] and the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad, such as Al-Mu'tadid, were often cruel in their punishments.[25] For hudud crimes such as zina (consensual extramarital or homosexual sex) and apostasy (leaving Islam and converting to another religion), Sharia requires capital punishment in public, while for crimes such as murder and manslaughter, the victim's family can either seek execution (Qisas) or can choose to spare the life of the killer in exchange for blood money restitution (Diyya).[26][27]

Modern era

Antiporta of Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crimes and Punishments), 1766 ed.

In the last several centuries, with the emergence of modern nation states, justice came to be increasingly associated with the concept of natural and legal rights. The period saw an increase in standing police forces and permanent penitential institutions. Rational choice theory, a utilitarian approach to criminology which justifies punishment as a form of deterrence as opposed to retribution, can be traced back to Cesare Beccaria, whose influential treatise On Crimes and Punishments (1764) was the first detailed analysis of capital punishment to demand the abolition of the death penalty.[28][29] Jeremy Bentham, regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism, also called for the abolition of the death penalty.[30] Beccaria, and later Charles Dickens and Karl Marx noted the incidence of increased violent criminality at the times and places of executions. Official recognition of this phenomenon led to executions being carried out inside prisons, away from public view.

In England in the 18th century, when there was no police force, there was a large increase in the number of capital offences to more than 200. These were mainly property offences, for example cutting down a cherry tree in an orchard.[31] In 1820, there were 160, including crimes such as shoplifting, petty theft or stealing cattle.[32] The severity of the so-called Bloody Code was often tempered by juries who refused to convict, or judges, in the case of petty theft, who arbitrarily set the value stolen at below the statutory level for a capital crime.[33]

Contemporary era

Mexican execution by firing squad, 1916

The 20th century was a violent period. Tens of millions were killed in wars between nation-states as well as genocide perpetrated by nation states against political opponents (both perceived and actual), ethnic and religious minorities; the Turkish assault on the Armenians, Hitler's attempt to exterminate the European Jews, the Khmer Rouge decimation of Cambodia, the massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda, to cite four of the most notorious examples. A large part of execution was the summary execution of enemy combatants. In Nazi Germany there were three types of capital punishment; hanging, decapitation and death by shooting.[34] Also, modern military organisations employed capital punishment as a means of maintaining military discipline. The Soviets, for example, executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion during World War II.[35] In the past, cowardice, absence without leave, desertion, insubordination, looting, shirking under enemy fire and disobeying orders were often crimes punishable by death (see decimation and running the gauntlet). One method of execution, since firearms came into common use, has also been firing squad, although some countries use execution with a single shot to the head or neck.

Various authoritarian states—for example those with fascist or Communist governments—employed the death penalty as a potent means of political oppression. According to Robert Conquest, the leading expert on Stalin's purges, more than 1 million Soviet citizens were executed during the Great Terror of 1937–38, almost all by a bullet to the back of the head.[36] Mao Zedong publicly stated that "800,000" people had been executed after the Communist Party's victory in 1949. Partly as a response to such excesses, civil rights organizations have started to place increasing emphasis on the concept of human rights and an abolition of the death penalty.

Among countries around the world, almost all European and many Pacific Area states (including Australia, New Zealand and Timor Leste), and Canada have abolished capital punishment. In Latin America, most states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment while some countries, such as Brazil, allow for capital punishment only in exceptional situations, such as treason committed during wartime. The United States (the federal government and 31 of the states), Guatemala, most of the Caribbean and the majority of democracies in Asia (for example, Japan and India) and Africa (for example, Botswana and Zambia) retain it. South Africa's Constitutional Court, in judgment of the case of State v Makwanyane and Another, unanimously abolished the death penalty on 6 June 1995.[37][38]

Abolition was often adopted due to political change, as when countries shifted from authoritarianism to democracy, or when it became an entry condition for the European Union. The United States is a notable exception: some states have had bans on capital punishment for decades, the earliest is Michigan, where it was abolished in 1846, while others actively use it today. The death penalty there remains a contentious issue which is hotly debated.

In abolitionist countries, the debate is sometimes revived by particularly brutal murders though few countries have brought it back after abolishing it. However, a spike in serious, violent crimes, such as murders or terrorist attacks, has prompted some countries (such as Sri Lanka and Jamaica) to effectively end the moratorium on the death penalty. In retention countries, the debate is sometimes revived when a miscarriage of justice has occurred though this tends to cause legislative efforts to improve the judicial process rather than to abolish the death penalty.

Modern-day public opinion

The public opinion on the death penalty varies considerably by country and by the crime in question. Countries where a majority of people are against execution include New Zealand, where 55 percent of the population oppose its use,[39] Australia where only 23 percent support the death penalty,[40] and Norway where only 25 percent are in favour.[41] Most French, Finns and Italians also oppose the death penalty.[42] A 2010 Gallup poll shows that 64% of Americans support the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, down from 65% in 2006 and 68% in 2001.[43][44]

Use of capital punishment is growing in India in the 2010s[45] due to both a growth in right wing politics and due to anger over several recent brutal cases of rape.[45] While support for the death penalty for murder is still high in China, executions have dropped precipitously, with 3,000 executed in 2012 versus 12,000 in 2002.[46] A poll in South Africa found that 76 percent of millennium generation South Africans support re-introduction of the death penalty, which is abolished in South Africa.[47]

Movements towards non-painful execution

Further information: Cruel and unusual punishment
A gurney at San Quentin State Prison in California used for executions by lethal injection

Trends in most of the world have long been to move to less painful, or more humane, executions. France developed the guillotine for this reason in the final years of the 18th century, while Britain banned drawing and quartering in the early 19th century. Hanging by turning the victim off a ladder or by kicking a stool or a bucket, which causes death by suffocation, was replaced by long drop "hanging" where the subject is dropped a longer distance to dislocate the neck and sever the spinal cord. The Shah of Persia introduced throat-cutting and blowing from a gun as quick and painless alternatives to more torturous methods of executions used at that time.[48] In the U.S., the electric chair and the gas chamber were introduced as more humane alternatives to hanging, but have been almost entirely superseded by lethal injection. A small number of countries still employ slow hanging methods and stoning.

A study of executions carried out in the U.S. between 1977 and 2001 indicated that at least 34 of the 749 executions, or 4.5%, involved "unanticipated problems or delays that caused, at least arguably, unnecessary agony for the prisoner or that reflect gross incompetence of the executioner." The rate of these "botched executions" remained steady over the period of the study.[49] A separate study published in The Lancet in 2005 found that in 43% of cases of lethal injection, the blood level of hypnotics was insufficient to guarantee unconsciousness.[50] However, the US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 (Baze v. Rees) that lethal injection is a constitutional form of punishment,[51] and again in 2015 (Glossip v. Gross).

Abolition of capital punishment

Peter Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, by Joseph Hickel, 1769

Many countries have abolished capital punishment either in law or in practice. Since World War II there has been a trend toward abolishing capital punishment. Capital punishment has been completely abolished by 102 countries, a further six have done so for all offences except under special circumstances and 32 more have abolished it in practice because they have not used it for at least 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice against carrying out executions.[2]

The death penalty was banned in China between 747 and 759. In Japan, Emperor Saga abolished the death penalty in 818 under the influence of Shinto and it lasted until 1156.[52]

In England, a public statement of opposition was included in The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards, written in 1395. Sir Thomas More's Utopia, published in 1516, debated the benefits of the death penalty in dialogue form, coming to no firm conclusion. More recent opposition to the death penalty stemmed from the book of the Italian Cesare Beccaria Dei Delitti e Delle Pene ("On Crimes and Punishments"), published in 1764. In this book, Beccaria aimed to demonstrate not only the injustice, but even the futility from the point of view of social welfare, of torture and the death penalty. Influenced by the book, Grand Duke Leopold II of Habsburg, famous enlightened monarch and future Emperor of Austria, abolished the death penalty in the then-independent Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the first permanent abolition in modern times. On 30 November 1786, after having de facto blocked capital executions (the last was in 1769), Leopold promulgated the reform of the penal code that abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all the instruments for capital execution in his land. In 2000, Tuscany's regional authorities instituted an annual holiday on 30 November to commemorate the event. The event is commemorated on this day by 300 cities around the world celebrating Cities for Life Day.

The Roman Republic banned capital punishment in 1849. Venezuela followed suit and abolished the death penalty in 1854[53] and San Marino did so in 1865. The last execution in San Marino had taken place in 1468. In Portugal, after legislative proposals in 1852 and 1863, the death penalty was abolished in 1867.

Abolition occurred in Canada in 1976 (except for some military offences, with complete abolition in 1998), in France in 1981, and in Australia in 1973 (although the state of Western Australia retained the penalty until 1984). In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed in a formal resolution that throughout the world, it is desirable to "progressively restrict the number of offences for which the death penalty might be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment".[54]

In the United Kingdom, it was abolished for murder (leaving only treason, piracy with violence, arson in royal dockyards and a number of wartime military offences as capital crimes) for a five-year experiment in 1965 and permanently in 1969, the last execution having taken place in 1964. It was abolished for all peacetime offences in 1998.[55]

In the United States, Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty, on 18 May 1846.[56] The death penalty was declared unconstitutional between 1972 and 1976 based on the Furman v. Georgia case, but the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia case once again permitted the death penalty under certain circumstances. Further limitations were placed on the death penalty in Atkins v. Virginia (death penalty unconstitutional for people with an intellectual disability) and Roper v. Simmons (death penalty unconstitutional if defendant was under age 18 at the time the crime was committed). In the United States, 18 states and the District of Columbia ban capital punishment.

Abolitionists believe capital punishment is the worst violation of human rights, because the right to life is the most important, and capital punishment violates it without necessity and inflicts to the condemned a psychological torture. Human rights activists oppose the death penalty, calling it "cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment". Amnesty International considers it to be "the ultimate, irreversible denial of Human Rights".[57]

Contemporary use

Capital punishment by country

A map showing the use of the death penalty in the United States by individual states. Note that the death penalty is used throughout the United States for certain federal crimes.
  States with a valid death penalty statute
  States without the death penalty

Most countries including almost all First World nations have abolished capital punishment either in law or in practice. Notable exceptions are the United States, China, North Korea, Japan, and some Islamic states. The U.S. is the only Western country to use the death penalty.[58][59][60][61][62][63][64]

Since World War II, there has been a trend toward abolishing the death penalty. 58 countries retain the death penalty in active use, 102 countries have abolished capital punishment altogether, six have done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 32 more have abolished it in practice because they have not used it for at least 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice against carrying out executions.[2]

According to Amnesty International, 25 countries are known to have performed executions in 2015, three more than in 2014.[65] There are countries which do not publish information on the use of capital punishment, most significantly China and North Korea.

Country Total executed
 China 1,000+
 Iran 977+
 Pakistan 326
 Saudi Arabia 158+
 United States 28
 Iraq 26+
 Somalia 25+
 Egypt 22+
 Indonesia 14
 Chad 10
 Yemen 8+
 Taiwan 6
 Sudan 5+
 Bangladesh 4
 Singapore 4
 Japan 3
 Sudan 3
 Jordan 2
 Oman 2
 Afghanistan 1
 India 1
 United Arab Emirates 1
 Malaysia Unknown
 North Korea Unknown
 Vietnam Unknown

The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly restrained in some retentionist countries including Taiwan and Singapore.[66] Indonesia carried out no executions between November 2008 and March 2013.[67]Singapore, Japan and the United States are the only developed countries that are classified by Amnesty International as 'retentionist' (South Korea is classified as 'abolitionist in practice').[68][69] Nearly all retentionist countries are situated in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.[68] The only retentionist country in Europe is Belarus. The death penalty was overwhelmingly practised in poor and authoritarian states, which often employed the death penalty as a tool of political oppression. During the 1980s, the democratisation of Latin America swelled the ranks of abolitionist countries.

This was soon followed by the fall of Communism in Europe. Many of the countries which restored democracy aspired to enter the EU. The European Union and the Council of Europe both strictly require member states not to practise the death penalty (see Capital punishment in Europe). Public support for the death penalty in the EU varies.[70] The last execution on the present day territory of the Council of Europe took place in 1997 in Ukraine.[71][72] On the other hand, rapid industrialisation in Asia has been increasing the number of developed retentionist countries. In these countries, the death penalty enjoys strong public support, and the matter receives little attention from the government or the media; in China there is a small but growing movement to abolish the death penalty altogether.[73] This trend has been followed by some African and Middle Eastern countries where support for the death penalty is high.

Some countries have resumed practising the death penalty after having suspended executions for long periods. The United States suspended executions in 1972 but resumed them in 1976; there was no execution in India between 1995 and 2004; and Sri Lanka declared an end to its moratorium on the death penalty on 20 November 2004,[74] although it has not yet performed any executions. The Philippines re-introduced the death penalty in 1993 after abolishing it in 1987, but abolished it again in 2006.

The United States and Japan are the only developed countries to have carried out executions. The federal government and 31 states have a valid death penalty statute, and over 1,400 executions have been carried in the country since it reinstated the death penalty in 1976, including 28 in 2015.

The most recent country to abolish the death penalty was Guinea in July 2016.[75]

Juvenile offenders

The death penalty for juvenile offenders (criminals aged under 18 years at the time of their crime) has become increasingly rare. Considering the age of majority is still not 18 in some countries, since 1990 nine countries have executed offenders who were juveniles at the time of their crimes: The People's Republic of China (PRC), Bangladesh, Congo-Kinshasa, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United States, and Yemen.[76] The PRC, Pakistan, the United States, Yemen and Iran have since raised the minimum age to 18.[77][78] Amnesty International has recorded 61 verified executions since then, in several countries, of both juveniles and adults who had been convicted of committing their offences as juveniles.[79] The PRC does not allow for the execution of those under 18, but child executions have reportedly taken place.[80]

Starting in 1642 within British America, an estimated 365[81] juvenile offenders were executed by the states and federal government of the United States.[82] The United States Supreme Court abolished capital punishment for offenders under the age of 16 in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), and for all juveniles in Roper v. Simmons (2005).

Between 2005 and May 2008, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen were reported to have executed child offenders, the most being from Iran.[83]

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forbids capital punishment for juveniles under article 37(a), has been signed by all countries and ratified, except for Somalia and the United States (notwithstanding the latter's Supreme Court decisions abolishing the practice).[84] The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights maintains that the death penalty for juveniles has become contrary to a jus cogens of customary international law. A majority of countries are also party to the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (whose Article 6.5 also states that "Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age...").

Iran, despite its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, was the world's largest executioner of juvenile offenders, for which it has received international condemnation; the country's record is the focus of the Stop Child Executions Campaign. But on 10 February 2012, Iran's parliament changed the controversial law of executing juveniles. In the new law, the age of 18 (solar year) would be for both genders considered and juvenile offenders will be sentenced on a separate law than of adults.[77][78] Based on the Islamic law which now seems to have been revised, girls at the age of 9 and boys at 15 of lunar year (11 days shorter than a solar year) were fully responsible for their crimes.[77] Iran accounted for two-thirds of the global total of such executions, and currently has roughly 140 people on death row for crimes committed as juveniles (up from 71 in 2007).[85][86] The past executions of Mahmoud Asgari, Ayaz Marhoni and Makwan Moloudzadeh became international symbols of Iran's child capital punishment and the judicial system that hands down such sentences.[87][88]

Saudi Arabia also executes criminals who were minors at the time of the offence.[89][90] In 2013, Saudi Arabia was the center of an international controversy after it executed Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker, who was believed to have been 17 years old at the time of the crime.[91]

There is evidence that child executions are taking place in the parts of Somalia controlled by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In October 2008, a girl, Aisha Ibrahim Dhuhulow was buried up to her neck at a football stadium, then stoned to death in front of more than 1,000 people. Somalia's established Transitional Federal Government announced in November 2009 (reiterated in 2013)[92] that it plans to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This move was lauded by UNICEF as a welcome attempt to secure children's rights in the country.[93]


The following methods of execution were used in 2015:[94][95][96][97][98]

Public execution

Main article: Public execution

A public execution is a form of capital punishment which "members of the general public may voluntarily attend". This definition excludes the presence of a small number of witnesses randomly selected to assure executive accountability.[99] While today the great majority of the world considers public executions to be uncivilized and distasteful and most countries have outlawed the practice, throughout much of history executions were performed publicly as a means for the state to demonstrate "its power before those who fell under its jurisdiction be they criminals, enemies, or political opponents". Additionally, it afforded the public a chance to witness "what was considered a great spectacle".[100]

Social historians note that beginning in the 20th century in the U.S. and western Europe death in general became increasingly shielded from public view, occurring more and more behind the closed doors of the hospital.[101] Executions were likewise moved behind the walls of the penitentiary.[101] The last formal public executions occurred in 1868 in Britain, in 1936 in the U.S. and in 1939 in France.[101]

According to Amnesty International, in 2012 "public executions were known to have been carried out in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia".[102] There have been reports of public executions carried out by state and non-state actors in Hamas-controlled Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.[103][104][105][106] Executions which can be classified as public were also carried out in the U.S. states of Florida and Utah as of 1992.[99]

Capital crime

Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity such as genocide are usually punished by the death penalty in countries retaining it. Death sentences for such crimes were handed down and carried out during the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 and the Tokyo Trials in 1948, but the current International Criminal Court does not use capital punishment. The maximum penalty available to the International Criminal Court is life imprisonment.


Intentional homicide is punishable by death in most countries retaining capital punishment, but generally provided it involves an aggravating factor required by statute or judicial precedents.

Drug trafficking

A sign at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport warns arriving travelers that drug trafficking is a capital crime in the Republic of China (photo taken in 2005)

Some countries provide the death penalty for drug trafficking, mostly in Asia. Among countries who regularly execute drug offenders are China, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Singapore.

Other offences

Other crimes that are punishable by death include treason, crimes against the state (most countries with the death penalty), rape (China, Iran, Saudi Arabia), economic crimes (China), adultery, sodomy, religious offences such as apostasy (Arabia,Iran, Sudan,Etc.), blasphemy (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan) and forms of aggravated robbery (Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Zambia).[58]

Controversy and debate

Capital punishment is controversial. Death penalty opponents regard the death penalty as inhumane[107] and criticize it for its irreversibility.[108] They assert also that capital punishment lacks deterrent effect,[109][110][111] discriminates against minorities and the poor, and that it encourages a "culture of violence".[112] There are many organizations worldwide, such as Amnesty International,[113] and country-specific, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that have abolition of the death penalty as a fundamental purpose.[114][115]

Advocates of the death penalty argue that it deters crime,[116][117] is a good tool for police and prosecutors (in plea bargaining for example),[118] makes sure that convicted criminals do not offend again, and is a just penalty for atrocious crimes.[119][120]


Execution of a war criminal in 1946

Supporters of the death penalty argued that death penalty is morally justified when applied in murder especially with aggravating elements such as for murder of law enforcement officers, child murder, torture murder, multiple homicide and mass killing such as terrorism, massacre and genocide. This argument is strongly defended by New York Law School's Professor Robert Blecker,[121] who says that the punishment must be painful in proportion to the crime. 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant defended a more extreme position, according to which every murderer deserves to die on the grounds that loss of life is incomparable to any jail term.[122]

Some abolitionists argue that retribution is simply revenge and cannot be condoned. Others while accepting retribution as an element of criminal justice nonetheless argue that life without parole is a sufficient substitute. It is also argued that the punishing of a killing with another death is a relatively unique punishment for a violent act, because in general violent crimes are not punished by subjecting the perpetrator to a similar act (e.g. rapists are not punished by corporal punishment).[123]

Human rights

Abolitionists believe capital punishment is the worst violation of human rights, because the right to life is the most important, and capital punishment violates it without necessity and inflicts to the condemned a psychological torture. Human rights activists oppose the death penalty, calling it "cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment". Amnesty International considers it to be "the ultimate irreversible denial of Human Rights".[57] Albert Camus wrote in a 1956 book called Reflections on the Guillotine, Resistance, Rebellion & Death:

An execution is not simply death. It is just as different from the privation of life as a concentration camp is from prison. [...] For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.[124]

In the classic doctrine of natural rights as expounded by for instance Locke and Blackstone, on the other hand, it is an important idea that the right to life can be forfeited.[125] As John Stuart Mill explained in a speech against an amendment to abolish capital punishment for murder in 1868:

And we may imagine somebody asking how we can teach people not to inflict suffering by ourselves inflicting it? But to this I should answer – all of us would answer – that to deter by suffering from inflicting suffering is not only possible, but the very purpose of penal justice. Does fining a criminal show want of respect for property, or imprisoning him, for personal freedom? Just as unreasonable is it to think that to take the life of a man who has taken that of another is to show want of regard for human life. We show, on the contrary, most emphatically our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself, and that while no other crime that he can commit deprives him of his right to live, this shall.[126]

Wrongful execution

Capital punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom in part because of the case of Timothy Evans, an innocent man who was hanged in 1950.
Main article: Wrongful execution

It is frequently argued that capital punishment leads to miscarriage of justice through the wrongful execution of innocent persons.[127] Many people have been proclaimed innocent victims of the death penalty.[128][129][130]

Some have claimed that as many as 39 executions have been carried out in the face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt in the US from 1992 through 2004. Newly available DNA evidence prevented the pending execution of more than 15 death row inmates during the same period in the US,[131] but DNA evidence is only available in a fraction of capital cases.[132] As of 2010, 139 prisoners on death row have been exonerated by DNA or other evidence, which is seen as an indication that innocent prisoners have almost certainly been executed.[133]

Improper procedure may also result in unfair executions. For example, Amnesty International argues that in Singapore "the Misuse of Drugs Act contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused. This conflicts with the universally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty".[134] This refers to a situation when someone is being caught with drugs. In this situation, in almost any jurisdiction, the prosecution has a prima facie case.

Since the death penalty reinstatement in the United States during the 1970s, no inmate executed has been granted posthumous exoneration.[135]

Racial, ethnic and social class bias

Opponents of the death penalty argue that this punishment is being used more often against perpetrators from racial and ethnic minorities and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, than against those criminals who come from a privileged background; and that the background of the victim also influences the outcome.[136][137][138] Researchers have shown that white Americans are more likely to support the death penalty when told that it is mostly applied to African Americans,[139] and that more stereotypically black-looking defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death if the case involves a white victim.[140]

Supporters of the death penalty retort that the over-representation of minorities among those sentenced to death only reflects their over-representation among criminals in general.[141]

International views

The United Nations introduced a resolution during the General Assembly's 62nd sessions in 2007 calling for a universal ban.[142][143] The approval of a draft resolution by the Assembly's third committee, which deals with human rights issues, voted 99 to 52, with 33 abstentions, in favour of the resolution on 15 November 2007 and was put to a vote in the Assembly on 18 December.[144][145][146]

Again in 2008, a large majority of states from all regions adopted a second resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the UN General Assembly (Third Committee) on 20 November. 105 countries voted in favour of the draft resolution, 48 voted against and 31 abstained.

A range of amendments proposed by a small minority of pro-death penalty countries were overwhelmingly defeated. It had in 2007 passed a non-binding resolution (by 104 to 54, with 29 abstentions) by asking its member states for "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".[147]

Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union affirms the prohibition on capital punishment in the EU

A number of regional conventions prohibit the death penalty, most notably, the Sixth Protocol (abolition in time of peace) and the 13th Protocol (abolition in all circumstances) to the European Convention on Human Rights. The same is also stated under the Second Protocol in the American Convention on Human Rights, which, however has not been ratified by all countries in the Americas, most notably Canada and the United States. Most relevant operative international treaties do not require its prohibition for cases of serious crime, most notably, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This instead has, in common with several other treaties, an optional protocol prohibiting capital punishment and promoting its wider abolition.[148]

Several international organizations have made the abolition of the death penalty (during time of peace) a requirement of membership, most notably the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe. The EU and the Council of Europe are willing to accept a moratorium as an interim measure. Thus, while Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, and the death penalty remains codified in its law, it has not made use of it since becoming a member of the Council – Russia has not executed anyone since 1996. With the exception of Russia (abolitionist in practice), Kazakhstan (abolitionist for ordinary crimes only), and Belarus (retentionist), all European countries are classified as abolitionist.[68]

Latvia abolished de jure the death penalty for war crimes in 2012, becoming the last EU member to do so.[149]

The Protocol no.13 calls for the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances (including for war crimes). The majority of European countries have signed and ratified it. Some European countries have not done this, but all of them except Belarus and Kazakhstan have now abolished the death penalty in all circumstances (de jure, and Russia de facto). Poland is the most recent country to ratify the protocol, on 28 August 2013.[150]

Signatories to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR: parties in dark green, signatories in light green, non-members in grey

The Protocol no.6 which prohibits the death penalty during peacetime has been ratified by all members of the European Council, except Russia (which has signed, but not ratified).

There are also other international abolitionist instruments, such as the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has 81 parties;[151] and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty (for the Americas; ratified by 13 states).[152]

In Turkey, over 500 people were sentenced to death after the 1980 Turkish coup d'état. About 50 of them were executed, the last one 25 October 1984. Then there was a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in Turkey. As a move towards EU membership, Turkey made some legal changes. The death penalty was removed from peacetime law by the National Assembly in August 2002, and in May 2004 Turkey amended its constitution in order to remove capital punishment in all circumstances. It ratified Protocol no. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights in February 2006. As a result, Europe is a continent free of the death penalty in practice, all states but Russia, which has entered a moratorium, having ratified the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, with the sole exception of Belarus, which is not a member of the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been lobbying for Council of Europe observer states who practise the death penalty, the U.S. and Japan, to abolish it or lose their observer status. In addition to banning capital punishment for EU member states, the EU has also banned detainee transfers in cases where the receiving party may seek the death penalty.[153]

Sub-Saharan African countries that have recently abolished the death penalty include Burundi, which abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2009,[154] and Gabon which did the same in 2010.[155] On 5 July 2012, Benin became part of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits the use of the death penalty.[156]

The newly created South Sudan is among the 111 UN member states that supported the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly that called for the removal of the death penalty, therefore affirming its opposition to the practice. South Sudan, however, has not yet abolished the death penalty and stated that it must first amend its Constitution, and until that happens it will continue to use the death penalty.[157]

Among non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are noted for their opposition to capital punishment. A number of such NGOs, as well as trade unions, local councils and bar associations formed a World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in 2002.

Religious views

The world's major religions have mixed opinions on the death penalty, depending on the sect, the individual believer, and the time period.


Use of the death penalty in Asia

There is disagreement among Buddhists as to whether or not Buddhism forbids the death penalty. The first of the Five Precepts (Panca-sila) is to abstain from destruction of life. Chapter 10 of the Dhammapada states:

Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore you do not kill or cause to be killed.[158]

Chapter 26, the final chapter of the Dhammapada, states, "Him I call a brahmin who has put aside weapons and renounced violence toward all creatures. He neither kills nor helps others to kill." These sentences are interpreted by many Buddhists (especially in the West) as an injunction against supporting any legal measure which might lead to the death penalty. However, as is often the case with the interpretation of scripture, there is dispute on this matter. Historically, most states where the official religion is Buddhism have imposed capital punishment for some offences. One notable exception is the abolition of the death penalty by the Emperor Saga of Japan in 818. This lasted until 1165, although in private manors executions continued to be conducted as a form of retaliation. Japan still imposes the death penalty, although some recent justice ministers have refused to sign death warrants, citing their Buddhist beliefs as their reason.[159] Other Buddhist-majority states vary in their policy. For example, Bhutan has abolished the death penalty, but Thailand still retains it, although Buddhism is the official religion in both. Mongolia abolished the death penalty in 2012.

Many stories in Buddhist scripture stress the superior power of the Buddha's teaching to rehabilitate murderers and other criminals. The most well-known example is Angulimala in the Theravadan Pali canon who had killed 999 people and then attempted to kill his own mother and the Buddha, but under the influence of the Buddha he repented and entered the monkhood. The Buddha succeeded when the King and all his soldiers failed to eliminate the murderer by force.[160]

Without one official teaching on the death penalty, Thai monks are typically divided on the issue, with some favoring abolition of the death penalty while others see it as bad karma stemming from bad actions in the past. [161]

In the edicts of the great Buddhist king Ashoka (ca. 304–232 BC) inscribed on great pillars around his kingdom, the King showed reverence for all life by giving up the slaughtering of animals, and many of his subjects followed his example. King Ashoka also extended the period before execution of those condemned to death so they could make a final appeal for their lives.

A close reading of texts in the Pali canon reveals different attitudes towards violence and capital punishment. The Pali scholar Steven Collins finds Dhamma in the Pali canon divided into two categories according to the attitude taken towards violence. In Mode 1 Dhamma the use of violence is "context-dependent and negotiable". A King should not pass judgement in haste or anger, but the punishment should fit the crime, with warfare and capital punishment acceptable in certain situations. In Mode 2 Dhamma the use of violence is "context-independent and non-negotiable" and the only advice to kings is to abdicate, renounce the world and leave everything to the law of karma. Buddhism is incompatible with any form of violence especially warfare and capital punishment. [162]

In the world that humans inhabit there is a continual tension between these two modes of Dhamma. This tension is best exhibited in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta (Digha Nikaya 26 of the Sutta Pitaka of the Pāli Canon), the story of humanity's decline from a golden age in the past. A critical turning point comes when the King decides not to give money to a man who has committed theft, but instead to cut off his head and also to carry out this punishment in a particularly cruel and humiliating manner, parading him in public to the sound of drums as he is taken to the execution ground outside the city. In the wake of this decision by the king, thieves take to imitating the King's actions and murder the people from whom they steal to avoid detection. Thieves turn to highway robbery and attacking small villages and towns far away from the royal capital where they won't be detected. A downwards spiral towards social disorder and chaos has begun. [163]


Execution of Mariana de Carabajal (converted Jew), accused of a relapse into Judaism, Mexico City, 1601

Views on the death penalty in Christianity run a spectrum of opinions, from complete condemnation of the punishment, seeing it as a form of revenge and as contrary to Christ's message of forgiveness, to enthusiastic support based primarily on Old Testament law.

Among the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, the message to his followers that one should "Turn the other cheek" and his example in the story Pericope Adulterae, in which Jesus intervenes in the stoning of an adulteress, are generally accepted as his condemnation of physical retaliation (though most scholars[164][165] agree that the latter passage was "certainly not part of the original text of St John's Gospel"[166]). More militant Christians consider Romans 13:3–4 to support the death penalty. Many Christians have believed that Jesus' doctrine of peace speaks only to personal ethics and is distinct from civil government's duty to punish crime.

In the Old Testament, Leviticus Leviticus 20:2–27 provides a list of transgressions in which execution is recommended. Christian positions on these passages vary.[167] The sixth commandment (fifth in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) is translated as "Thou shalt not kill" by some denominations and as "Thou shalt not murder" by others. As some denominations do not have a hard-line stance on the subject, Christians of such denominations are free to make a personal decision.[168]

Eastern Orthodox Christianity does not officially condemn or endorse capital punishment. It states that it is not a totally objectionable thing, but also that its abolition can be driven by genuine Christian values, especially stressing the need for mercy.[169]

The Rosicrucian Fellowship and many other Christian esoteric schools condemn capital punishment in all circumstances.[170][171]

Roman Catholic Church

In recent times, the Catholic Church has generally moved away from any explicit condoning or approval of the death penalty and has instead increasingly adopted a more disapproving stance on the issue.[172][173] Many modern Church figures such as Pope John Paul II,[174] Pope Francis,[175] and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops[176] have in fact actively discouraged the death penalty or advocated for the out-right abolition of the death penalty. Historically and officially, however, the Catholic Church has held that, in certain cases, a legal system may be justified in levying a death sentence, as such a sentence may deter crime, may protect society from potential future acts of violence by an offender, may bring retribution for an offender's wrongful acts, and may even help the offender to move closer to reconciliation with God in the face of death.[177] St. Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church, accepted the death penalty as a deterrent and prevention method but not as a means of vengeance. (See Aquinas on the death penalty.) In 1566, the Roman Catechism stated this teaching thus:

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.[178]

The 1911 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia suggested that Catholics should hold that "the infliction of capital punishment is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, and the power of the State to visit upon culprits the penalty of death derives much authority from revelation and from the writings of theologians", but that the matter of "the advisability of exercising that power is, of course, an affair to be determined upon other and various considerations."[179]

More recently, however, in the 1995 Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II suggested that capital punishment should be avoided unless it is the only way to defend society from the offender in question, opining that punishment "ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent."[174] The most recent edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church restates this view, and further states that:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.[172]

That the assessment of the contemporary situation advanced by John Paul II is not binding on the Catholic faithful was confirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote in 2004 that,

if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.[180]

In 2015, Pope Francis stated in an address to the International Commission against the Death Penalty that: "Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed." Francis argued that the death penalty is no longer justified by a society's need to defend itself and has lost all legitimacy due to the possibility of judicial error. He further stated that capital punishment is an offense "against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God's plan for man and society" and "does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance." [181] In the address, Francis further explained:

In certain circumstances, when hostilities are underway, a measured reaction is necessary in order to prevent the aggressor from causing harm, and the need to neutralize the aggressor may result in his elimination; it is a case of legitimate defence (cf. Evangelium Vitae, n. 55). Nevertheless, the prerequisites of legitimate personal defence are not applicable in the social sphere without the risk of distortion. In fact, when the death penalty is applied, people are killed not for current acts of aggression, but for offences committed in the past. Moreover, it is applied to people whose capacity to cause harm is not current, but has already been neutralized, and who are deprived of their freedom. [...]

For a constitutional State the death penalty represents a failure, because it obliges the State to kill in the name of justice [...] Justice is never reached by killing a human being. [...] The death penalty loses all legitimacy due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error. Human justice is imperfect, and the failure to recognize its fallibility can transform it into a source of injustice. With the application of capital punishment, the person sentenced is denied the possibility to make amends or to repent of the harm done; the possibility of confession, with which man expresses his inner conversion; and of contrition, the means of repentance and atonement, in order to reach the encounter with the merciful and healing love of God. Furthermore, capital punishment is a frequent practice to which totalitarian regimes and fanatical groups resort, for the extermination of political dissidents, minorities, and every individual labelled as "dangerous" or who might be perceived as a threat to their power or to the attainment of their objectives. As in the first centuries and also in the current one, the Church suffers from the application of this penalty to her new martyrs.

The death penalty is contrary to the meaning of humanitas and to divine mercy, which must be models for human justice. It entails cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, as is the anguish before the moment of execution and the terrible suspense between the issuing of the sentence and the execution of the penalty, a form of "torture" which, in the name of correct procedure, tends to last many years, and which oftentimes leads to illness and insanity on death row.[182]

Shortly prior to Francis's address, the Vatican had officially given support to a 2015 United Nations campaign against the death penalty.[181] During a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting concerning the abolishment of capital punishment, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi declared that "The Holy See Delegation fully supports the efforts to abolish the use of the death penalty."[183] The Archbishop stated:

Considering the practical circumstances found in most States ... it appears evident nowadays that means other than the death penalty 'are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons [...] We should take into account that no clear positive effect of deterrence results from the application of the death penalty and that the irreversibility of this punishment does not allow for eventual corrections in the case of wrongful convictions.[183]

Despite recent Church statements, the Catholic Church still officially holds, as per the most recent 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, that the death penalty may be employed where public authority cannot find any other way to contain a dangerous person.[183]


Southern Baptists support the fair and equitable use of capital punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts, so long as it does not constitute as an act of personal revenge or discrimination.[184]

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops condemned the death penalty in 1988:

This Conference: ... 3. Urges the Church to speak out against: ... (b) all governments who practise capital punishment, and encourages them to find alternative ways of sentencing offenders so that the divine dignity of every human being is respected and yet justice is pursued;....[185]

The United Methodist Church, along with other Methodist churches, also condemns capital punishment, saying that it cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life.[186] The Church also holds that the death penalty falls unfairly and unequally upon marginalised persons including the poor, the uneducated, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with mental and emotional illnesses.[187] The General Conference of the United Methodist Church calls for its bishops to uphold opposition to capital punishment and for governments to enact an immediate moratorium on carrying out the death penalty sentence.

In a 1991 social policy statement, the ELCA officially took a stand to oppose the death penalty. It states that revenge is a primary motivation for capital punishment policy and that true healing can only take place through repentance and forgiveness.[188]

Community of Christ, the former Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), is opposed to capital punishment. The first stand against capital punishment was taken by the church's Presiding High Council in 1995. This was followed by a resolution of the World Conference in 2000. This resolution, WC 1273, states:

[W]e stand in opposition to the use of the death penalty; and ... as a peace church we seek ways to achieve healing and restorative justice. Church members are encouraged to work for the abolition of the death penalty in those states and nations that still practise this form of punishment.[189]

Several key leaders early in the Protestant Reformation, including Martin Luther and John Calvin, followed the traditional reasoning in favour of capital punishment, and the Lutheran Church's Augsburg Confession explicitly defended it. Some Protestant groups have cited Genesis 9:5–6, Romans 13:3–4, and Leviticus 20:1–27 as the basis for permitting the death penalty.[190][191]

Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and Friends have opposed the death penalty since their founding, and continue to be strongly opposed to it today. These groups, along with other Christians opposed to capital punishment, have cited Christ's Sermon on the Mount (transcribed in Matthew Chapter 5–7) and Sermon on the Plain (transcribed in Luke 6:17–49). In both sermons, Christ tells his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies, which these groups believe mandates nonviolence, including opposition to the death penalty.

The Church of Scotland considers that capital punishment is unacceptable and does not provide an answer for even the most serious crimes.[192]

In 2015, a large association representing over 30 U.S. Protestant denominations[193] ceased promoting a pro-death penalty stance and announced its affirmation of Christians who oppose the death penalty as well as those who support it, and also affirmed both sides' ethical reasoning in doing so.[194][195]


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints neither supports nor opposes capital punishment, although the church's founder, Joseph Smith, supported it.[196] However, today the church officially states that it is a "matter to be decided solely by the prescribed processes of civil law."[197]


A basis can be found in Hindu teachings both for permitting and forbidding the death penalty. Hinduism preaches ahimsa (or ahinsa, non-violence), but also teaches that the soul cannot be killed and death is limited only to the physical body. The soul is reborn into another body upon death (until Moksha), akin to a human changing clothes. The religious, civil and criminal law of Hindus is encoded in the Dharmaśāstras and the Arthasastra. The Dharmasastras describe many crimes and their punishments and call for the death penalty in several instances, including murder and righteous warfare.[198]


"Execution of a Moroccan Jewess (Sol Hachuel)" a painting by Alfred Dehodencq

Sharia, the religious law in Islam, requires capital punishment for certain crimes.[26][199] For example, the Quran states,

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.
Qur'an, Sura 5, ayat 33[200]

Similarly, capital punishment by stoning for zina (extramarital sex) is prescribed in the Hadiths, the most trusted books in Islam after the official text called the Quran, particularly in Kitab Al-Hudud.[201][202]

'Ubada b. as-Samit reported: Allah's Messenger as saying: Receive teaching from me, receive teaching from me. Allah has ordained a way for those women. When an unmarried male commits adultery with an unmarried female, they should receive one hundred lashes and banishment for one year. And in case of married male committing adultery with a married female, they shall receive one hundred lashes and be stoned to death.
Allah's Messenger awarded the punishment of stoning to death to the married adulterer and adulteress and, after him, we also awarded the punishment of stoning, I am afraid that with the lapse of time, the people may forget it and may say: We do not find the punishment of stoning in the Book of Allah, and thus go astray by abandoning this duty prescribed by Allah. Stoning is a duty laid down in Allah's Book for married men and women who commit adultery when proof is established, or if there is pregnancy, or a confession.

In the four primary schools of Sunni fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and the two primary schools of Shi'a fiqh, certain types of crimes mandate capital punishment. Certain hudud crimes, for example, are considered crimes against God and require capital punishment in public.[26] These include apostasy (leaving Islam to become an atheist or convert to another religion such as Christianity),[203][204] fasad (mischief in the land, or moral corruption against Allah, social disturbance and creating disorder within the Muslim state)[205][206] and zina (consensual heterosexual or homosexual relations not allowed by Islam).[201]

The right to be convinced and to convert from Islam to another religion is held by only a minority of Muslim scholars. This view of religious freedom is, however, not shared by the vast majority of Muslim scholars both past as well as present. Most classical and modern Muslim jurists regard apostasy (riddah), defined by them as an act of rejection of faith committed by a Muslim whose Islam had been affirmed without coercion, as a crime deserving the death penalty.
Abdul Rashied Omar[203]

Qisas is another category of sentencing where sharia permits capital punishment, for intentional or unintentional murder.[207] In the case of death, sharia gives the murder victim's nearest relative or Wali (ولي) a right to, if the court approves, take the life of the killer.[208][209]

O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty.
Quran 2:178

Further, in case of Qisas-related capital punishment, sharia offers the victim's guardian the option of Diyya (monetary compensation).[17] In several Islamic countries such as the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as well as the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran, both hudud and qisas type capital punishment is part of the legal system and in use. In others, there is variation in the use of capital punishment. Some Islamic or Muslim-majority nations like the Republic of Turkey have abolished the death penalty.

Capital punishment for apostasy in Islam and stoning to death in Islam are controversial topics. Similarly, the discriminatory option between capital punishment and monetary compensation for crimes such as murder is controversial, where jurists have asked if poor offenders face trial and capital punishment while wealthy offenders are able to avoid a trial by paying off the Qisas compensation money.[210] Another historic and continuing controversy is the perceived discrimination between the death of a Muslim and a non-Muslim dhimmi, as well as discrimination between the death of a male and a female, used in sharia-ruled states. A woman's life is considered half the worth of a man, while Christians and Jews are worth half of a Muslim, and the life of Buddhist, Hindu, folk religion or atheist is considered 1/16th the worth of a Muslim by some Islamist governments.[211] This has reporedly led certain Islamic nations to discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims while imposing capital punishment and compensation, for both intentional murder and manslaughter, depending on whether the victim is Muslim or non-Muslim, as well as based on the religion of the individual who has committed the crime.[212]

Lethal stoning and beheading in public under sharia is controversial for being a perceived as a strict form of capital punishment.[213][214] These forms of execution remain part of the religious law enforced in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Pakistan and Mauritania.[1][215][216]


The official teachings of Judaism approve the death penalty in principle but the standard of proof required for application of death penalty is extremely stringent. In practice, it has been abolished by various Talmudic decisions, making the situations in which a death sentence could be passed effectively impossible and hypothetical. A capital case could not be tried by a normal Beit Din of three judges, it can only be adjudicated by a Sanhedrin of a minimum of 23 judges.[217] Forty years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in approximately the year 70 CE,[218] i.e. in approximately 30 CE, the Sanhedrin effectively abolished capital punishment,[219] making it a hypothetical upper limit on the severity of punishment, fitting in finality for God alone to use, not fallible people.

The 12th-century Jewish legal scholar, Maimonides said:

"It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death."[220]

Maimonides argued that executing a defendant on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice". Maimonides was concerned about the need for the law to guard itself in public perceptions, to preserve its majesty and retain the people's respect.[221]

One of the only two executions in Israeli history occurred in 1961, when Adolf Eichmann, one of the principal organizers of the Holocaust, was hanged after his trial in Jerusalem. It is the last judicial execution carried out by the country.

See also



  1. 1 2 Kronenwetter 2001, p. 202
  2. 1 2 3 "DEATH SENTENCES AND EXECUTIONS REPORT 2015". Amnesty International. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  3. "Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union" (PDF). Retrieved 23 August 2010.
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