Why capital punishment should be abolished?

The death penalty violates human rights. The right to life and the right not to be subject to cruel or inhumane treatment or punishment are fundamental rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To read more about Canada’s history of capital punishment, visit our summary here: The Death Penalty in Canada.

Amnesty International Global Death Penalty Report

Every year, Amnesty International publishes its annual “Amnesty International Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions.” Our 2023 report will be published in May 2024.

Death penalty facts

In practice, capital punishment regularly violates many other human rights:

  • Capital punishment disproportionately affects poor people.
  • It disproportionately affects visible minorities and other marginalized groups.
  • Death sentences in many parts of the world routinely result from evidence extracted through torture.
  • Innocent people have been executed, and nothing short of abolition can guarantee that no innocent person will be executed.
  • Capital punishment is often used for crimes or circumstances which international law or standards say should not have a death penalty, such as against those who were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, following an unfair trial and for non-lethal crimes such as drug trafficking or political offences.

Furthermore, study after study has shown the death penalty is:

  • Ineffective at deterring crime
  • Extremely costly, draining resources that could more effectively be used to solve and prevent crime

Every year, executions take place in several countries. Regularly, countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and the United States feature as countries with the highest number of executions worldwide.

What countries have the death penalty?

Amnesty International’s Global Report on Death Sentence and Executions in 2021 found 579 executions in 18 countries. Compared to 2020, that’s an increase of 20%. It’s the second-lowest number of executions recorded by Amnesty International since at least 2010.

List of countries with capital punishment

The countries with capital punishment in 2021 (listed in order of the number of executions from highest to lowest):

  • China
  • Iran
  • Egypt
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Somalia
  • Iraq
  • Yemen
  • USA
  • South Sudan
  • Bangladesh
  • Botswana
  • Japan
  • Belarus
  • United Arab Emirates

China remains the world’s leading executioner – but the true extent of its use of the death penalty is unknown. Capital punishment data in China is classified as a state secret. Our global figures for executions and death sentences in China exclude the thousands of people that Amnesty International believes to have been sentenced to death and executed.

Death penalty laws

There is a reason for hope. Each year, more countries abolish the death penalty in law or practice. Several UN General Assembly motions have been passed in recent years calling for a universal moratorium on executions with a view to abolition. Far more countries have abolished capital punishment than practice it; each year, executions only occur in a few countries.