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May 3, 2007

International DP perspective from The Economist

A thoughtful student pointed me to this recent article from the The Economist, which provides a perspective on recent death penalty developments worldwide.  Here are some highlights:

According to Amnesty International's latest report, "at least" (precise figures are hard to get) 1,591 executions were carried out worldwide last year, well down on the previous year, but nearly 40% higher than in 2003.  Yet Piers Bannister, the lobby group's death-penalty specialist, believes that the world is gradually inching its way towards abolition.

That may sound wildly optimistic. But he says the important point is not the number of executions, which fluctuates from year to year, but the number of countries that carry out executions. This total has fallen steadily from 40 a decade ago to just 25 last year.  Since 1985, 55 countries have ended the death penalty or, having already limited it to “extraordinary” crimes (such as those committed in wartime), have now banned it outright.  During the same period, only four states have reintroduced the death penalty. Two of them, Nepal and the Philippines, have since abolished it again; in the other two, the Gambia and Papua New Guinea, there have been no executions.

Big swathes of the world have become execution-free: 89 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, another ten for all but exceptional crimes, and a further 30 are abolitionist in practice, having executed nobody for at least a decade. Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for the complete abolition of the death penalty.

In Europe, where abolition of capital punishment is a condition of membership of both the European Union and the 46-nation Council of Europe (of which Russia is a member), Belarus is the only country that still uses it.  In Africa, only four countries carried out the death penalty last year.  And in the Americas, the United States is the only country to have executed anybody since 2003.  Only Asia and the Middle East seem largely untouched by the global movement away from the death penalty.

May 3, 2007 at 01:21 PM | Permalink

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