China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the USA are among the world's most prolific executioners. There have been recent executions or resumptions of death sentences after de facto moratoriums in countries such as India, Indonesia, Kuwait and Nigeria.
Which country will be the last to abolish the death penalty?
The global trend toward abolition has accelerated dramatically in recent years. As recently as the late 1970s, only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Yet today, according to the UN, some 150 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
As understanding has grown that capital punishment is an abhorrence unworthy of a civilized society, government after government — from all major regions, cultures and religions — has rejected it. They have done so because experience and evidence demonstrate that the death penalty is cruel, irrevocable and a violation of the right to life. It damages and poisons society by endorsing violence, and by causing injustice and suffering. It has no particular deterrent effect on violent crime, and in fact abolitionist nations often have lower murder rates than those that still execute.
Not only have most individual governments concluded that the death penalty is wrong. Increasingly the world's community of nations is sending a clear, collective and powerful political message that there is no place for capital punishment in humanity's future.
We do so knowing that the global outlook on capital punishment is shifting rapidly. The tide has turned irreversibly in the long battle against the death penalty, an inherently cruel and deeply flawed punishment that has done incalculable damage to countless individual lives and whole societies.
Globally, it is clearer than ever that abolition is politically right and politically possible. Any objective assessment shows that full global abolition would be a true victory for humanity. Which nation will be the last lonely outpost of state killing? Which will be the last to cross the threshold to a modern civilized system of justice, by finally abolishing this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment?
With political courage, every nation could immediately suspend the use of the death penalty as a step toward full abolition.