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

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)


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


Jul 10, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Tanzania

On June 21, 2024, China announced that courts, pros­e­cu­tors, pub­lic, and state bod­ies should use the death penal­ty against Taiwan sep­a­ratists. The state-run Xinhua news agency report­ed that the new guide­lines rec­om­mend severe­ly punish[ing] Taiwan inde­pen­dence diehards for split­ting the coun­try and incit­ing seces­sion crimes in accor­dance with the law, and res­olute­ly defend nation­al sov­er­eign­ty, uni­ty and ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty.” Critics say that the vague­ness of the legal lan­guage in the new…

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Jun 05, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: China, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe

On May 7, 2024, Harm Reduction International (HRI) released a spe­cial glob­al overview report on the use of the death penal­ty for drug offens­es, which is a vio­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al law because drug offens­es do not meet the most seri­ous” crimes thresh­old. HRI found that by the end of 2023, there were 34 coun­tries which still retained the death penal­ty for drug-relat­ed offens­es; Pakistan was the only coun­try to recent­ly elim­i­nate the death penal­ty for such offens­es – the first coun­try in more…

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May 30, 2024

Amnesty International Global Report (2023): Lowest Number of Countries Carried Out Highest Number of Recorded Executions in Nearly a Decade, Driven by Iran (74% of Total)

According to Amnesty International’s annu­al death penal­ty report for 2023, 16 coun­tries car­ried out the 1,153 known exe­cu­tions last year, con­sti­tut­ing the low­est num­ber of exe­cut­ing coun­tries on record with the orga­ni­za­tion but the high­est record­ed exe­cu­tion num­bers since 2015. The 31% glob­al increase in record­ed exe­cu­tions is attrib­ut­able to the 48% rise in exe­cu­tions in Iran (at least 853 exe­cu­tions), which account­ed for 74% of record­ed exe­cu­tions world­wide. Saudi Arabia came in sec­ond with…

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May 01, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Uganda, United States, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe

Missouri’s April 9th exe­cu­tion of Brian Dorsey, despite wide­spread sup­port for his clemen­cy, once again gar­nered con­dem­na­tion from the European Union, which described it as a inhu­man and degrad­ing prac­tice.” The EU’s state­ment high­light­ed the lack of the death penal­ty as a deter­rent and the irre­versibil­i­ty of the pun­ish­ment, not­ing that 197 death-sen­tenced pris­on­ers have been exon­er­at­ed. The EU con­tin­ues to call for the uni­ver­sal abo­li­tion of the death penal­ty and for States, that maintain…

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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…

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