Capital punishment

Other Names:
Death penalty
Ineffectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent
Denial of rights of those punished with death penalty
Anticipation of capital punishment as torture
State-sponsored killing
Judicial revenge killing

In addition to the inhumanity of carrying out any death penalty, there is the cruelty arising from the inefficiency with which it is carried out. Hanging is not necessarily immediately effective. Death may finally result from strangulation. Firing squads have proved even less effective when those involved miss the target and the person in charge is reluctant to put the prisoner out of his misery. Gassing and electrocution do not necessarily ensure a rapid death, possibly due to technical problems with the equipment. As of 1995, China was considering expanding the set of crimes that receive the death penalty. Executed prisoners' organs are sold for transplantation.


Amnesty International reports in the 10 years up to 1989 the certain execution of 15,320 people in 90 countries. The true figures may be three times as great. It is estimated that in 1969 South Africa was responsible for 47% of the death sentences in the free world. In the three years to mid 1988 the countries most involved in capital punishment were Iran (743 executions or more), South Africa (more than 537), China (more than 500), Nigeria (more than 439), Somalia (150 or more), Saudi Arabia (140), Pakistan (115 or more), the USA (66) and the former Soviet Union (63 or more). Iraq probably executed hundreds in this period. China may have executed as many as 30,000 in the period 1983-87 (with over 1,700 executed in 1998). About forty-four countries do not resort to capital punishment.

The following countries are cited, by Amnesty International, as enforcing capital punishment:

[Africa] Angola, Benin, Central African Rep, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

[America] Chile, Cuba, Jamaica, USA.

[Asia] Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Korea Rep, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Viet Nam, Yemen DR.

[Europe] Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Turkey, USSR, Yugoslavia.

In the USA, over 3,900 executions have occurred under the various criminal justice systems of the states since 1930. In 1983, over 1,200 prison inmates were awaiting execution. Florida, Texas, Georgia and California lead the thirty-eight States where the death penalty is enforced. The death penalty appeals process consumes millions of dollars and has made a mockery of the judicial system, contributing significantly to the public's lack of faith in the criminal justice system. The 68 prisoners executed in the USA in 1998 spent an average of over 10 years on death row during the appeals process.

Under Islamic law, absolute crimes, known as hudud (including theft, robbery, apostasy and adultery) carry mandatory sentences of death, mutilation or flogging, which can be inflicted on children of either sex from the age of seven.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
17.10.2021 – 07:20 CEST