A global trend towards abolition
Just over 40 years ago, in 1981, when France abolished capital punishment, two thirds of the world’s states practised the death penalty on a regular basis. Today, this trend has been reversed: with 60% of states now abolitionist, universal abolition is becoming a reality, year by year.
In 2022, of the 198 Member States of the United Nations:
- ABOLITIONIST: States or territories where the death penalty has been abolished for all crimes (also referred to as “total” abolition).
- ABOLITIONIST FOR ORDINARY CRIMES: States or territories where the death penalty has been abolished except in exceptional circumstances (also referred “common law abolitionist”). Ordinary crimes are related to, among others, the Penal Code, e.g. murder, rape, conspiracy, drug trafficking. Exceptional circumstances means in times of war or other exceptional regimes: in this case, the death penalty is still provided for in the Code of Military Justice.
- WITH A MORATORIUM ON EXECUTIONS: States or territories where the death penalty is in force but where no executions have been carried out for the last 10 years and which did not oppose the most recent UN resolution on a universal moratorium on executions and/or which have ratified OP2.
- RETENTIONIST: States or territories where the death penalty is implemented.
Find out the status of the death penalty, state by state, or in the member states of a particular intergovernmental organisation, and visualise the trend towards abolition.
Uneven application around the world
The death penalty is predominantly applied in Asia, the Middle East and the United States.
In 2021, the five states with the highest number of executions were China, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
China alone executes more people each year than all other countries combined, although official figures are classified as state secrets.
Iran is the country with the the highest execution rate per capita: at least 333 people were executed in 2021 and more than 5,000 people are on death row.
Focus on Africa, the next abolitionist continent
Most of the 22 African states that have abolished the death penalty in law did so after applying a moratorium on executions for more than ten years (e.g. Senegal and Republic of Congo). 10 have amended their constitutions (e.g. Mozambique and Côte d’Ivoire) while another 10 have reformed their penal codes (e.g. Senegal and Togo). In Benin, abolition followed the ratification of OP2. 1/4 of African countries have ratified this protocol.
On the other hand, not all states with a moratorium are engaged in an active abolitionist process. The vast majority of the 23 states with a moratorium have been abolitionist for more than 20 years, or even, for example in Niger, for more than 40 years. Liberia, located in a predominantly abolitionist region, maintains the death penalty despite having acceded to OP2.
1/4 of the 34 states that have not abolished the death penalty in law still apply it on a mandatory basis. 4 states continue to issue death sentences for homosexuality and apostasy, such as Nigeria. About 2/3 of non-abolitionist states maintain the death penalty for acts of terrorism.
A number of positive developments suggest that abolition is on the horizon in many countries, such as Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Within international organisations
- 94% of the 54 full member states of the International Organisation of La Francophonie have a moratorium or are abolitionist in law.
- 60% of the 53 member states of the Commonwealth have a moratorium or are abolitionist in law.
- 77% of the 9 member states of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries are abolitionist in law.
- 61% of the 54 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have a moratorium or are abolitionist in law.
- 37% of the 22 member states of the Arab League have a moratorium or are abolitionist in law.