We know that, together, we can end the death penalty everywhere.
Every day, people are executed and sentenced to death by the state as punishment for a variety of crimes – sometimes for acts that should not be criminalized. In some countries, it can be for drug-related offences, in others it is reserved for terrorism-related acts and murder.
Some countries execute people who were under 18 years old when the crime was committed, others use the death penalty against people with mental and intellectual disabilities and several others apply the death penalty after unfair trials – in clear violation of international law and standards. People can spend years on death row, not knowing when their time is up, or whether they will see their families one last time.
The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.
Amnesty International holds that the death penalty breaches human rights, in particular the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Both rights are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948.
Over time, the international community has adopted several instruments that ban the use of the death penalty, including the following:
• The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
• Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning the abolition of the death penalty, and Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
• The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Although international law says that the use of the death penalty must be restricted to the the most serious crimes, meaning intentional killing, Amnesty believes that the death penalty is never the answer.
The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.
• Lethal injection
Country names listed reflect nomenclature in April 2021. Download Amnesty International’s Global Report on Death Sentences and Executions 2020.
The use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people younger than 18 is prohibited under international human rights law, yet some countries still sentence to death and execute juvenile defendants. Such executions are few compared to the total number of executions recorded by Amnesty International each year.
However, their significance goes beyond their number and calls into question the commitment of the executing states to respect international law.
Since 1990 Amnesty International has documented at least 149 executions of child offenders in 10 countries: China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, the USA and Yemen.
Several of these countries have changed their laws to exclude the practice. Iran has executed more than twice as many child offenders as the other nine countries combined. At the time of writing Iran has executed at least 99 child offenders since 1990.
Where do most executions take place?
In 2019, most known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt – in that order.
China remains the world’s top executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret; the global figure of at least 657 recorded in 2019 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.
Excluding China, 86% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.
Executions per year
Amnesty International recorded at least 657 executions in 20 countries in 2018, down by 5% from 2018 (at least 690 executions). This figure represents the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in at least a decade.
Death sentences per year
Amnesty International recorded at least 2,307 death sentences in 56 countries in 2019, a slight decrease from the total of 2,531 reported in 2018. At least 26,604 people were known to be under sentence of death globally at the end of 2019.
Reasons to abolish the death penalty
It is irreversible and mistakes happen. Execution is the ultimate, irrevocable punishment: the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated. Since 1973, for example, more than 160 prisoners sent to death row in the USA have later been exonerated or released from death row on grounds of innocence. Others have been executed despite serious doubts about their guilt.
It does not deter crime. Countries who execute commonly cite the death penalty as a way to deter people from committing crime. This claim has been repeatedly discredited, and there is no evidence that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than life imprisonment.
It is often used within skewed justice systems. In many cases recorded by Amnesty International, people were executed after being convicted in grossly unfair trials, on the basis of torture-tainted evidence and with inadequate legal representation. In some countries death sentences are imposed as the mandatory punishment for certain offences, meaning that judges are not able to consider the circumstances of the crime or of the defendant before sentencing.
It is discriminatory. The weight of the death penalty is disproportionally carried by those with less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds or belonging to a racial, ethnic or religious minority. This includes having limited access to legal representation, for example, or being at greater disadvantage in their experience of the criminal justice system.
It is used as a political tool. The authorities in some countries, for example Iran and Sudan, use the death penalty to punish political opponents.
What is Amnesty doing to abolish the death penalty?
For 40 years, Amnesty has been campaigning to abolish the death penalty around the world.
Amnesty monitors its use by all states to expose and hold to account governments that continue to use the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. We publish a report annually, reporting figures and analysing trends for each country. Amnesty’s latest report, Death Sentences and Executions 2019, was released in April 2020.
The organisation’s work to oppose the death penalty takes many forms, including targeted, advocacy and campaign based projects in the Africa, Asia-Pacific, Americas and Europe and Central Asia region; strengthening national and international standards against its use, including by supporting the successful adoption of resolutions on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty by the UN General Assembly; and applying pressure on cases that face imminent execution. We also support actions and work by the abolitionist movement, at national, regional and global level.
When Amnesty started its work in 1977, only 16 countries had totally abolished the death penalty. Today, that number has risen to 106 – more than half the world’s countries. More than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice.
In the Philippines
More than a decade ago, the Philippines recognized that the capital punishment is the ultimate violation of the right to life by abolishing the Republic Act 7659, later ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which further emphasized the cruel and inhuman nature of capital punishment.
Since the start of President Duterte’s term in 2016 however, he has sought to reinstate the death penalty, and almost succeeded when the House of Representatives voted to pass the bill in 2017.
Today, we call on the Philippine Senate to reject any and all proposals for the reinstatement of the death penalty. Call on our Senators to recognize that the death penalty fails as a deterrent to any form of crime and contributes to a culture that continually devalues life.