Miah Phelan Sweeney explores whether there is a change in global attitudes towards capital punishment.

Living in Ireland, it’s easy to forget that the death penalty is still a common punishment but it remains a prevalent issue in many countries. According to Amnesty International’s Global Report on the use of the Death Penalty in 2017, the amount of death sentences imposed has reduced. However the number of countries carrying out executions remains almost the same. In 2017, only two new countries abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

The report added this meant by the end of 2017, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes, claiming that “the world has passed a tipping point and… the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is within reach.”

Minority of countries
The situation now stands that only a small minority of countries in the world continue to use the death penalty as punishment. However China remains the worlds’ top executioner, but they do not release exact figures. Excluding China, 84 percent of  all executions in the world in 2017 were carried out by just four countries, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The number of countries involved in active executions was 23, the same figure as 2016. In these countries, the most popular forms of capital punishment are beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting. Currently, there are 21,919 people known by Amnesty International to be under death sentences across the world.

On a more positive note a 17 percent decrease was reported in the total number of death sentences imposed globally. On top of this, seven countries which imposed death sentences in 2016 were not recorded as doing so in 2017 and two more countries abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

So, are global attitudes to justice changing? Thankfully it appears so, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where there has been great progress in the fight to abolish the death penalty. Guinea was the 20th state in the region to abolish the death penalty for all crimes in 2017 with Kenya also abolishing the mandatory death penalty for murder. On top of this, Burkina Faso and Chad also took steps to repeal the punishment. Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland has said that these developments represent a “beacon of hope”, claiming that it is “high time” that the rest of the world follows the lead of such sub-Saharan countries.

The findings of the report suggest that progress is hopeful, but it is certainly not the time to ease up. Click here to find out how you can help.


Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

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