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Death penalty

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The countries that use the death penalty. Blue: No death penalty, Green: No death penalty, except in wartime, Orange: death penalty, but no people executed in the last 10 years, Red:Death penalty for certain crimes

Death penalty, also called capital punishment, is when a government or state executes (kills) someone, usually because they have done something wrong.

Executions in most countries have become rarer in recent centuries. The death penalty is a disputed and controversial topic.

About one third of the countries in the world have laws that allow the death penalty.[1] The United States, The People's Republic of China, Japan and Iran are examples of countries that have a death penalty. Canada, Australia, Mexico and all members of Council of Europe are examples of countries that have abolished the death penalty.

Over half the countries in the world have gotten rid of the death penalty in law and practice: 75 countries have gotten rid of the capital punishment for all crimes and another 20 can be considered abolitionist in practice. The latter retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more. Other countries especially ones with Authoritarian or Totalitarian governments, however, also use it for smaller crimes like theft, drugs, or for saying bad things about the government.

Which countries execute the most people?

A study by Amnesty International found that the following countries did the most executions in 2012: [2]

  1. China (4000+) data not officially released
  2. Iran (At least 314+)
  3. Iraq (At least 129+)
  4. Saudi Arabia (79+)
  5. United States (43)
  6. Yemen (28+)
  7. Sudan (19+)
  8. Afghanistan (14)

Common reasons for execution

It is common to have people executed for crimes like murder, but there are also other crimes that carry the death penalty. Some of these are:

During war time, the following crimes are punished by death:

Who may not be executed

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that became valid in 1976, people that were not at least eighteen years old at the time they committed the crime may not be executed. According to the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically its 13th amendment (2002), no one must be executed.


Some people think the death penalty is a good thing, and others think it is a bad thing. Many people on both sides of the argument have very strong feelings. One side says the death penalty is good because it scares people away from doing things that could get them killed, the other side says there's a potential of executing an innocent man; one says justice, retribution, and punishment; the other side says that execution is murder. Most people know the threat of crime to their lives, but the question lies in the methods and action that should be used to deal with it.

Throughout human history, governments and rulers have used many death penalty methods to execute people, such as crucifixion, flaying, and hanging. Some methods like crucifixion and flaying are no longer used by governments, because people think that these methods of killing are too cruel. The gas chamber was found unconstitutional in the United States (that is: against the United States constitution not allowing "cruel and unusual punishments") and is no longer used.

The Council of Europe has abolished all death penalty by 13th amendment of the European Convention on Human Rights. Amnesty International oppose all death penalty on ground of the right to life and prohibition of all tortures or any cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment insisted by Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Forms of execution

A mannequin is placed in a garrote to demonstrate the position of a human in the device

The following forms of execution are in use today:

  • Electric chair: The prisoner is killed by a strong source of electricity attached to their head and leg.
  • Lethal injection: The prisoner is poisoned with a mix of chemicals that are put into their body. Some countries use chemicals that cause controversy.
  • Firing squad: Some people shoot the prisoner with rifles. Firing squads are often used as the death penalty for soldiers during wars. One or more of those firing may have false ammunition that does not kill to make sure that nobody can brag with a decisive shot. Firing squad is traditional military execution, and often deserters, traitors and spies are shot.
  • Hanging: The prisoner has a rope tied around their neck. They are then dropped from a height. They die because their neck is broken or through choking (asphyxiation), if the drop is too small or knot was badly made. If the drop is too long or the prisoner too heavy, the result may be their head being torn off. Japan, India and former British colonies use hanging.
  • Strangulation, by hand or by garrote. The garrote was the principal device for capital punishment in Spain for hundreds of years. Originally, the convict was killed by hitting him with a club (garrote in Spanish). This later developed into putting a loop of rope placed around the neck. A wooden stick was placed in the loop, and rotated to tighten the rope until the condemned person was strangled to death.
  • Stoning: Stones are thrown at the prisoner until they die. Stoning is still used in some Middle Eastern countries.
  • Decapitation: The victim has his or her head cut off with a sharp blade, such as sword, axe or guillotine. This was the traditional means of execution in Central Europe and many other places. Decapitation is also called beheading. Decapitation still used today in some Middle Eastern countries.