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The Death Penalty around the World

There is a downward trend in the number of death sentences and executions around the world. In 20 years, more than fifty countries have become abolitionists in law.

To date, 97 states have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, 8 have abolished it for ordinary crimes, and 36 are observing a moratorium on executions, i.e. 141 states in total.

However, the death penalty is still applied in 57 states and territories.

Since 2011, 23 states have carried out executions. While the number of countries carrying out executions is decreasing, the latest report from Amnesty International lists 676 executions in 2011, compared to 527 in 2010, demonstrating an increase in executions in the core retentionist countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. Moreover, the actual figure is difficult to determine in the absence of official statistics in some countries, including China. The number of sentencings has meanwhile declined from 2024 in 2010 to 1923 in 2011.

Each year, more countries are abolishing the death penalty:

-  Mongolia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aimed at abolishing the death penalty in January 2012.

-  Latvia abolished the death penalty for all crimes in January 2012.

-  Honduras and the Dominican Republic ratified the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights concerning abolishing the death penalty respectively in November 2011 and January 2012.

-  In the United States, Illinois and Connecticut became the 16th and 17th states to abolish the death penalty in March 2011 and in April 2012 respectively. North Africa and Middle EastDespite the hopes raised by the Arab Spring, none of the 22 states in the region have abolished the death penalty. In 2011, at least 558 executions were recorded in eight countries (Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Yemen), including several hundreds in Iran, 68 in Iraq, and at least 82 in Saudi Arabia, a trend that continued in 2012. No information is available regarding Libya’s use of the death penalty in 2011, but numerous reports indicate extrajudicial killings by all parties in the conflict. Other countries have been observing de facto moratoria for several years (Tunisia since 1991, Morocco and Algeria since 1993, Lebanon since 2004, and Jordan since 2006).


Mongolia abolished the death penalty in March 2012, joining Nepal, Timor-Leste, the Philippines, and Cambodia as abolitionist states in the region. Many states have been observing de facto moratoria for several years (Maldives since 1952, Sri Lanka since 1976, Burma since 1988, Laos since 1989, South Korea since 1997, India since 2004). To this day, Pakistan is continuing its moratorium begun in 2009.

In 2011, eight states carried out executions: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam, but eighteen states have delivered death sentences. In the absence of official data, estimates indicate several thousands of executions annually in China. Japan broke a de facto moratorium observed for a year and a half on March 29th, 2012 with the hanging of three convicts. The country carried out more executions in August 2012.

Americas and Caribbean

A majority of the American continent is abolitionist. In 2011 and to this day, the United States has been the only country on the continent to carry out executions. Nevertheless, positive results have been observed, with the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois and Connecticut and the establishment of a moratorium in Oregon.

The American Commission on Human Rights opposes the death penalty and frequently speaks out against executions in the United States.

In the rest of the continent, Belize, Cuba, Jamaica, Guatemala, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and most of the English-speaking Caribbean islands have not abolished the death penalty. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth countries are observing a de facto moratorium, as a result of the “Pratt and Morgan” jurisprudence set forth by the Queen’s Privy Council, declaring that the application of the death penalty more than five years after sentencing constitutes cruel and inhuman punishment.


17 of 48 states have abolished the death penalty in law and a positive trend has been observed in recent years. In 2009, Togo and Burundi joined the abolitionist states. Benin abolished the death penalty in June 2012 and the Democratic Republic of Congo spoke in favor of an “irreversible moratorium” and “progressive abolition” in March 2012. In contrast to this positive trend, Botswana and The Gambia carried out executions in 2012.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called for abolishing the death penalty at its 49th session in 2011; a working group was established in 2005.


Belarus remains the only state on the European continent that has not abolished the death penalty. Four people have been executed since 2011, including two in March 2012. Russia imposed a moratorium on executions in 1996.

In Europe, Protocols 6 and 13 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms also prohibit the death penalty in times of peace and war.

Updated on 20.09.12

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