International Views on the Death Penalty


Death Penalty Focus Board Members lobbied the United Nations to adopt a resolution for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

The vast majority of countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The numbers are as follows:

Abolitionist for all crimes: 96

Abolitionist for ordinary crimes: 9

Abolitionist in practice: 34


Total abolitionist in law or practice: 139

Retentionist: 58



1. ABOLITIONIST FOR ALL CRIMES

Countries whose laws do not provide for the death penalty for any crime:

Albania, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote D'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome And Principe, Senegal, Serbia (including Kosovo), Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela

2. ABOLITIONIST FOR ORDINARY CRIMES ONLY
Countries whose laws provide for the death penalty only for exceptional crimes such as crimes under military law or crimes committed in exceptional circumstances:
Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Fiji, Israel, Kazakstan, Latvia, Peru.

3. ABOLITIONIST IN PRACTICE
Countries which retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes such as murder but can be considered abolitionist in practice in that they have not executed anyone during the past 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions. The list also includes countries which have made an international commitment not to use the death penalty:
Algeria, Benin, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo (Republic of), Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Nauru, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tonga, Tunisia, Zambia

4. RETENTIONIST
Countries and territories that retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes:
Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe


Countries that have abolished the death penalty since 1976

1976: Portugal abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1978: Denmark abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1979: Luxembourg, Nicaragua and Norway abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Brazil, Fiji and Peru abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

1981: France and Cape Verde abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1982: The Netherlands abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1983: Cyprus and El Salvador abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

1984: Argentina abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

1985: Australia abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1987: Haiti, Liechtenstein and the German Democratic Republic (1) abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1989: Cambodia, New Zealand, Romania and Slovenia (2) abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1990: Andorra, Croatia (2), the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (3), Hungary, Ireland, Mozambique, Namibia and Sao Tomé and Príncipe abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1992: Angola, Paraguay and Switzerland abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1993: Guninea-Bissau, Hong Kong (4) and Seychelles abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1994: Italy abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1995: Djibouti, Mauritius, Moldova and Spain abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1996: Belgium abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1997: Georgia, Nepal, Poland and South Africa abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Bolivia abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

1998: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania and the United Kingdom abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

1999: East Timor, Turkmenistan and Ukraine abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Latvia (5) abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

2000 : Cote D'Ivoire and Malta abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Albania (6) abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

2001: Bosnia-Herzegovina (7) abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Chile abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

2002: Cyprus and Yugoslavia (now two states Serbia and Montenegro (9)) abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2003: Armenia abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2004: Bhutan, Greece, Samoa, Senegal and Turkey abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2005: Liberia (8) and Mexico abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2006: Philippines abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2007: Albania (6) and Rwanda abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Kyrgyzstan abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

2008: UZBEKISTAN, CHILE and ARGENTINA abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2009: Burundi and Togo abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2010: Gabon abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

Notes:

(1) In 1990 the German Democratic Republic became unified with the Federal Republic of Germany, where the death penalty had been abolished in 1949.
(2) Slovenia and Croatia abolished the death penalty while they were still republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The two republics became independent in 1991.
(3) In 1993 the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic divided into two states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
(4) In 1997 Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule as a special administrative region of China. Since then Hong Kong has remained abolitionist.
(5) In 1999 the Latvian parliament voted to ratify Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty for peacetime offenses.
(6) In 2007 Albania ratified Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances. In 2000 it had ratified Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty for peacetime offenses.
(7) In 2001 Bosnia-Herzegovina ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, abolishing the death penalty for all crimes.
(8) In 2005 Liberia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, abolishing the death penalty for all crimes.
(9) Montenegro had already abolished the death penalty in 2002 when it was part of a state union with Serbia. It became an independent member state of the United Nations on 28 June 2006. Its ratification of Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances, came into effect on 6 June 2006.

Source: Amnesty International, 2011

Human Rights and the Death Penalty

On October 21, 2009, the World Coalition launched its ratification of the United Nations Protocol on the abolition of the death penalty by all states parties to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) who have abolished the death penalty. 

The international covenant was adopted in 1989 by the General Assembly and it is a Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.  Thus far it has been ratified by 72 countries.  The protocol seeks to ensure that executions become definitively illegal and explicitly asserts the principal that the death penalty is a violation of human rights, specifically, the right to life. 

UN Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium on Executions

At the end of 2007 the UN General Assemby adopted a resolution establishing a moratorium on executions with the goal of abolishing the death penalty.  The resolution recalled the relevant provisions found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 3

  1. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Legal Effect

While not officially binding per se, the Declaration is nevertheless generally regarded as "customary international law" meaning that in the eyes of the International Court of Justice among others it is a source of primary law. Another example of customary international law is the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, the Declaration was adopted for the purpose of defining the meaning of "fundamental freedoms" and "human rights" that appear in the United Nations Charter, and therefore this language is binding on all member states, including the United States.

2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 6

  1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
  2. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court.
  3. When deprivation of life constitutes the crime of genocide, it is understood that nothing in this article shall authorize any State Party to the present Covenant to derogate in any way from any obligation assumed under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
  4. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases.
  5. Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women.
  6. Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.

Legal Effect

The United States Senate ratified the ICCPR in 1992, but included in its ratification was the declaration that "the provisions of Article 1 through 27 of the Covenant are not self-executing" and a Senate Executive Report stated that the declaration was meant to "clarify that the Covenant will not create a private cause of action in U.S. Courts." Many people within the human rights community consider the reservations contrary to the very purpose and meaning of the covenant and therefore question whether the reservations are even legal under domestic law. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 19, a reservation that is "incompatible with the object and purpose" of a treaty is void as a matter of international law.

3. Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 37

States Parties shall ensure that:

(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;

Legal Effect

The United States along with Somalia are the only two member states that have not ratified the Convention.  The right of states to execute children was one of the primary reasons for the US Senate's failure to ratify the Convention but in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons which held that the execution of juveniles was unconstitutional. However, more recently in Graham v. Florida the Supreme Court held that life without parole was unconstitutional for juveniles in non-homicide cases. Currently it is not unconstitutional to hold a juvenile for life without parole in a homicide case which is in contravention with article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which specifically prohibits "life imprisonment without possibility of release" for persons under 18.

International Treaties and the U.S. Constitution

The Supremacy Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution, which states:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." (Article VI, Section 1, Clause 2 (emphasis added))

In 1922, the Court applied the Supremacy Clause to international treaties, holding in the case of Missouri v. Holland, that the Federal government's ability to make treaties is supreme over any State concerns that such treaties might abrogate states' rights arising under the Tenth Amendment.


 

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