Capital punishment

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.


1. The death penalty continues to be used in some countries, occasionally preceded by the use of torture and beating. As a deterrent, particularly for crimes such as murder, its value is questionable because such crimes are usually committed as acts of passion rather than in the light of reason sensitive to the implications. As an educational function, the killing of criminals by the state tends to lessen society's appreciation of human life. It also affects the entire law enforcement and penal apparatus in a negative way. Pre-execution mistreatment of the prisoner makes the process needlessly cruel and inhumane. The death penalty also precludes any correction of a miscarriage of justice as a result of the conviction of innocent persons, particularly when executions are hastily carried out. Crimes leading to the death penalty result in sensational trials which emphasize undesirable aspects of human behaviour.

2. There is no evidence anywhere to suggest that capital punishment has any general deterrent effect. Indeed, when the death penalty was abolished in New South Wales, Australia, the murder rate went down!


1. Since individuals are morally free agents, capital punishment is the most appropriate deterrent against commission of certain crimes such as high treason, assassination, terrorism, murder, mutilation and rape. The existence of such punishment emphasizes society's abhorrence of the offence and reaffirms belief in the sanctity of life. As a penalty, capital punishment may be morally correct as being in equal or lesser proportion to the crime. The many procedural safeguards afforded the accused make the chances of an erroneous conviction minimal.

2. Firm conclusions that the death penalty either does or does not deter are unwarranted and usually determined by psychological and moral preferences. There is statistical evidence to indicate that each additional execution prevents approximately 7 people from committing murder. However interpretation of such data is extremely complex. Academic and media conclusions that the death penalty does not deter, may or may not be correct, but they do not follow from the arguments that are deployed.

3. It is grossly irrelevant to compare capital punishment to the crimes against humanity perpetuated by tyrants. Putting capital punishment into law is the prerogative of every sovereign nation. It is strictly an internal matter; outside intervention is untenable. Capital punishment is not an uncivilized practice. What is so disturbing is that there are failings in the legal process that wrongfully send innocent people to die.

(F) Fuzzy exceptional problems