Policy Issues


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

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

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


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


Jun 01, 2023

Uganda’s Controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act” Includes Possibility of Death Sentence

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s (pic­tured) deci­sion to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 on May 29 has drawn wide­spread inter­na­tion­al crit­i­cism. The new law pre­scribes that peo­ple con­vict­ed of aggra­vat­ed homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” may now be pun­ished with a death sen­tence. Although same-sex rela­tion­ships were already ille­gal in the coun­try, the new law, which passed with the sup­port of 341 out of 389 mem­bers of par­lia­ment, includes harsh­er pun­ish­ments for pro­mot­ing” homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and engag­ing in same-sex rela­tions. Uganda last car­ried out an exe­cu­tion in 2005.

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Apr 18, 2024

United States Provides Binding Assurances to the United Kingdom that Julian Assange Will Not Face the Death Penalty If Extradited

On April 16, 2024, the Biden Administration pro­vid­ed assur­ances to the United Kingdom that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fac­ing extra­di­tion to the United States on espi­onage charges, would not face the death penal­ty. A hear­ing is now sched­uled in London on May 20 to eval­u­ate the assur­ances and decide whether Mr. Assange has any remain­ing legal recourse. A few weeks ear­li­er, the High Court in London grant­ed Mr. Assange a reprieve from extra­di­tion, agree­ing to grant him an appeal if the United States was unable to pro­vide assur­ances that…

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Apr 03, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and United States

Georgia’s exe­cu­tion of Willie Pye – the state’s first in more than four years – gar­nered crit­i­cism from the European Union. Although the European Union and its 27 Member States oppose cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in all cir­cum­stances, we are espe­cial­ly con­cerned about the sched­uled exe­cu­tion of Mr. Pye giv­en his intel­lec­tu­al dis­abil­i­ty and issues regard­ing the qual­i­ty of his legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” said the EU’s let­ter to the state’s Board of Pardons and Parole in sup­port of Mr. Pye’s clemen­cy peti­tion, which was sub­se­quent­ly denied on March 19, 2024. Following the March…

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Mar 06, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: Afghanistan, China, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United States, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe

In the after­math of Idaho’s failed exe­cu­tion of Thomas Creech and Texas’ exe­cu­tion of Ivan Cantu on February 28, the European Union released a state­ment express­ing its regret and reit­er­at­ing its unequiv­o­cal oppo­si­tion to the death penal­ty.. “[The death penal­ty] is a vio­la­tion of the right to life and fails to act as a deter­rent to crime. It rep­re­sents the ulti­mate pun­ish­ment that makes mis­car­riages of jus­tice irre­versible,” said the state­ment. “[W]e are con­cerned by the fact that the num­ber of exe­cu­tions in the US increased last year, as 24

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Feb 12, 2024

Robert Badinter, Former French Justice Minister, and Death Penalty Abolitionist, Dies at 95

Robert Badinter, a fierce defend­er of human rights, defense lawyer, and for­mer French jus­tice min­is­ter who led the effort to abol­ish the death penal­ty in his coun­try, died on February 9, 2024. Mr. Badinter influ­enced many legal changes, includ­ing laws that decrim­i­nal­ized homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, improved prison con­di­tions, and advo­cat­ed for his own par­tic­u­lar con­cept of jus­tice. As a defense lawyer, Mr. Badinter wit­nessed the exe­cu­tion of one of his clients, and vivid­ly recalled the hor­rors involved with the use of the guil­lo­tine. In 1981, one of his first offi­cial actions as…

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Feb 07, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: China, Ghana, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United States, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe

The January 25, 2024 exe­cu­tion of Kenneth Smith in the state of Alabama with nitro­gen gas received wide­spread inter­na­tion­al con­dem­na­tion. The European Union reit­er­at­ed its com­mit­ment to abol­ish­ing the death penal­ty and called the exe­cu­tion method a par­tic­u­lar­ly cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, stat­ed: I deeply regret the exe­cu­tion of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama despite seri­ous con­cerns that this nov­el and untest­ed method of suf­fo­ca­tion may amount to tor­ture, cru­el, inhu­man or degrad­ing treat­ment.” A January 30 state­ment by four United…

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Jan 24, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: China, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Yemen

The University of Oxford Death Penalty Research Unit, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sev­er­al human rights non­prof­its, recent­ly launched a data­base of for­eign nation­als sen­tenced to death or exe­cut­ed from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2021 in Asia and the Middle East. They found that Saudi Arabia leads the Middle East in sen­tenc­ing for­eign nation­als to death (385 peo­ple) and drug-traf­fick­ing (283), close­ly fol­lowed by mur­der (257), are the top crimes for which for­eign nation­als in the region are cap­i­tal­ly con­vict­ed. Among the for­eign nation­als sen­tenced to the death in the…

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Dec 06, 2023

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: China, Israel, Iran, Malaysia, Philippines, Qatar, Somalia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe

On November 7, Chinese media report­ed that for­mer pri­ma­ry school prin­ci­pal Zhang Longji was exe­cut­ed via lethal injec­tion for rap­ing five girls, age 8 – 12, and sex­u­al­ly molest­ing 17 girls, age 8 – 14. Sun Deshun, for­mer pres­i­dent of China CITIC Bank Corporation Limited, who was con­vict­ed of accept­ing $1 bil­lion yuan ($137 mil­lion) in bribes, was giv­en a sus­pend­ed death sen­tence by the Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan on November 10. If no new crimes are com­mit­ted dur­ing the two-year pro­ba­tion, then Mr. Sun’s sen­tence could be com­mut­ed to life with­out parole. According to…

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Nov 01, 2023

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: Algeria, Belarus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam

On October 23, 2023, 38 indi­vid­u­als were sen­tenced to death for the mob killing of Jamal Ben Ismail, who had been mis­tak­en­ly iden­ti­fied as the arson­ist respon­si­ble for the August 2021 fires that killed 90 peo­ple in the north­west region. Despite the death sen­tences, all pris­on­ers will be resen­tenced to life impris­on­ment due to the nation­wide mora­to­ri­um in place since 1993 when the last exe­cu­tions occurred. 

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