Policy Issues

International

More than 70% of the world’s countries have abolished capital punishment in law or practice. The U.S. is an outlier among its close allies in its continued use of the death penalty.

DPIC Page: Foreign Nationals on United States' Death Rows

DPIC Page: Foreign Nationals on United States' Death Rows

Some of those on death row in the U.S. are cit­i­zens of oth­er coun­tries, rais­ing human rights issues and issues of U.S. com­pli­ance with inter­na­tion­al treaties.

Cornell Law School: International Death Penalty Database

Cornell Law School: International Death Penalty Database

Maintained by the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide (Cornell Law School)

Overview

More than 70% of the world’s countries have abolished capital punishment in law or practice. However, the death penalty continues to exist in many parts of the world, especially in countries with large populations and those with authoritarian rule. In recent decades, there has been a clear trend away from capital punishment, as many countries have either abolished the death penalty or discontinued its use. The U.S. remains an outlier among its close allies and other democracies in its continued application of the death penalty.

While inter­na­tion­al law does not pro­hib­it the death penal­ty, most coun­tries con­sid­er it a vio­la­tion of human rights. The use of the death penal­ty world­wide is rel­e­vant in eval­u­at­ing U.S. stan­dards of decen­cy and what should be con­sid­ered cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment under the Eighth Amendment. Some Justices of the Supreme Court have referred to international law as further affirmation of their own conclusions about the death penalty, particularly as it may apply to specific classes of defendants such as juvenile offenders.

At Issue

There are a number of disagreements that may arise between countries that impose the death penalty and those that do not. Countries without the death penalty are particularly concerned when one of their citizens faces execution in the U.S. Some countries refuse to extradite individuals to the U.S., or even to provide incriminating evidence, if the defendant could face the death penalty. In addition, many countries and international bodies consider the death penalty to be a human rights issue and various U.S. death-penalty practices have been criticized as violating U.S. treaty obligations and international human rights law. The concern for human rights around the world has always been important in U.S. diplomacy, but the U.S. is often challenged because of its use of the death penalty and the protection that affords to other countries that use it in particularly abusive ways.

What DPIC Offers

International research on the use of the death penalty owes particular gratitude to Amnesty International, which has regularly monitored and reported on capital punishment around the world. DPIC passes this information on with attribution through its website and makes an effort to highlight those areas where international norms and practices reflect on the death penalty in the U.S. DPIC has issued one report focusing on this topic and regularly highlights relevant research and developments that occur around the world.


News & Developments


International

Nov 15, 2021

Death-Row Prisoners in Japan Sue Over Same-Day Notice of Executions

Two Japanese death-row pris­on­ers have filed a law­suit alleg­ing that the country’s long-crit­i­cized prac­tice of noti­fy­ing pris­on­ers of their exe­cu­tion the same day they are to be put to death is inhu­mane” and vio­lates the nation’s constitution.…

International

Jul 26, 2021

Sierra Leone Becomes 23rd African Country to Abolish the Death Penalty

The par­lia­ment of Sierra Leone vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly on July 23, 2021 to abol­ish the death penal­ty, mak­ing the West African nation of 7.8 mil­lion peo­ple the 23rd coun­try on the con­ti­nent and the 110th world­wide to end cap­i­tal punishme…

International

Jan 03, 2021

NEWS BRIEF — Kazakhstan Abolishes the Death Penalty

After a sev­en­teen-year mora­to­ri­um on exe­cu­tions, the Republic of Kazakhstan has for­mal­ly abol­ished the death penal­ty. On January 2, 2021, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev added his sig­na­ture to a bill pass…