The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life.
It represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity. It cannot be reversed, and as criminal justice systems are open to error and discrimination, there is always a risk of innocent people being killed. The death penalty has never been reliably shown to deter criminal justice behaviour more effectively than other punishments.
While there is no agreement in international law prohibiting the death penalty per se, there is a specific requirement that capital punishment should be limited to the ‘most serious crimes’. Yet, in many countries retaining the death penalty, it is used for a much wider range of offences, including non-violent offences. International law prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on children, pregnant women and people suffering mental illnesses. However, in some countries children have been executed.
Encouragingly, over the past 50 years there has been a global trend towards abolishing the death penalty. More and more states are reducing the number of offences carrying the death penalty, adopting a moratorium on executions or death sentences and are ultimately ending the death penalty in law or practice. Yet, many countries retain the death penalty and many people continue to be executed every year. We develop resources and provide guidance for key justice actors to undertake legal and policy reforms to support abolition and the introduction of humane alternative sanctions (see: life imprisonment).