The death penalty or execution means the execution of a criminal who has been convicted during a trial. It serves as a criminal sanction against the so-called ‘major crimes’. These are very serious crimes.
The death penalty has led to numerous internal and external conflicts in the countries where it is still practiced. The international community has therefore even taken new measures that prohibit such sanctions.
In this article, we will examine the main international standards governing the enforcement of the death penalty, as well as the cases in which it applies in the world today.
Policy on the abolition of the death penalty
Throughout history, the death penalty has evolved, both in its implementation and in cases where the death penalty is applicable. It applies to specific crimes and it was often a solution to a conflict between people of a community.
The death penalty was the foundation on which tribal societies were based. It was the means of restoring peace thanks to its deterrent effect. Today, however, most democratic countries have abolished it.
In Spain, for example, the death penalty existed since the Middle Ages until the adoption of the Spanish Constitution in 1978. Article 15 says, “The death penalty is hereby abolished, except as provided by military criminal law in time of war.”
As a result, Organic Law 11/1995 abolished the only case where the death penalty was enforceable. The Military Criminal Code can therefore no longer apply it.
In addition, the international community has adopted several standards prohibiting its application:
- The Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, intended to abolish the death penalty.
- The Protocol of the US San José Convention to Abolish the Death Penalty.
- Articles 6 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These articles talk about the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
International laws stipulate that the death penalty must be limited internationally. But many organisations, such as Amnesty International, believe that the death penalty should never be an option because it is a symptom of a culture of violence.
Enforcement of the death penalty
Today, more than two in three countries worldwide have abolished the death penalty. As a result, fewer criminals are executed. In 20 years, more than 50 countries have removed it from their legislation.
A total of 108 countries have eliminated it, 7 countries have abolished it for offenses under ordinary law and 29 countries have suspended executions. However, it is still maintained in 55 countries.
While it is difficult to determine the total number of executions due to the lack of official data from some countries, Amnesty International recorded 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018.
This was 31% less than the year before and the lowest so far in a year. The countries that carried out the most executions were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iraq, in that particular order.
Executions of people who were minors at the time of the crime
Some countries still sentence people to death who were minors at the time of the crime committed. This still happens today, although international human rights laws prohibit the death penalty in these cases.
Since 1990, Amnesty International has documented 145 executions of minors in ten countries:
- Saudi Arabia
- the United States
- the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- South Sudan
While the number of executions of minors has decreased compared to the total number, its importance goes beyond just the data. This practice calls into question the commitment of the implementers to comply with international law.
In any case, this is a highly controversial topic that has a major impact on political campaigns of developed countries such as the United States. That’s why it’s important to keep the debate going.