Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty.
It is understandable that some people believe in capital punishment. When a loved one is murdered senselessly, a sense of justice and loss combines to want the perpetrator to receive what the victim received – no mercy. One person responded to this murder with the comment (on Facebook): “So glad they still have the death penalty”.
But a time of grief may not be the best time to make a judgment about this – any view may be based more on revenge than justice. And there is another side of the matter.
Reasons not to execute
- Perhaps the strongest reason – too many convictions are errors, and when the true story comes to light, it is too late to remedy the wrong if the falsely-accused has been executed.
- The death penalty is open to abuse by unscrupulous governments who wish to stifle political dissent.
- It appears, whether by accident or design, that some sub-groups are disproportionately represented among executions. US studies show that non-white murderers are more likely to be executed than white murderers, and murderers of white people were far more likely to be executed than murderers of non-whites.
- Studies suggest, though not unanimously, that the death penalty has little effect as a deterrent.
- Studies also show that the costs of executing a convicted criminal in the US is, surprisingly, greater than incarcerating them, because of the multiple appeals and reviews. I imagine this wouldn’t be true in most other countries where there are less opportunities for appeal.
- If we were friends of the murderer rather than the victim, we may feel quite differently.
- It denies people their right to life. Amnesty International says:
The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Watch a short and beautiful video on the death penalty.
Statistics on legal executions
It is impossible to obtain accurate statistics worldwide, because some countries don’t release records. But here are a few of the best estimates available:
Countries which have the death penalty
Only about a fifth of the world’s countries still have the death penalty, with the number dropping from about 40% to 20% since 1990. However about half of these haven’t actually executed anyone recently.
The biggest executors
China is far and away the largest executor, with annual executions estimated at several thousands (China does not make the figures public). The next largest executors are Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, USA, North Korea, Pakistan and Yemen (the ranking varies each year).
The US is the only G7 country that still has the death penalty. The highest number of executions occur in the south – the states with the most executions in the last 4 years are: Texas (far the biggest), Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Arizona and Mississippi.
What we can do
If you believe the death penalty is inhumane and should be abolished, you can get involved in petitions to stop it. Amnesty International is probably the best organisation to support here. There may be a link on that website to a local Amnesty group in your country.
You can become a member, make a donation, or join in campaigns. I get emails from Amnesty which highlight particular cases and provide a quick link to join an online petition.
Avaaz is another organisation that makes it easy to join online petitions if you join the email list, though it isn’t as focused on human rights abuses as is Amnesty.
Picture: Amnesty International.