Sep 15, 2014, 05.24AM IST TNN
Written history has several mentions of capital punishment. The legal principle lex talionis — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life — was mentioned in the 18th century BCE code of Babylonian king Hammurabi. Many ancient societies had similar codes to justify judicial executions. The 7th century BCE's Draconian Code of Athens, the 5th century BCE Roman Law and Kautilya's Arthasastra, all had provisions of death sentence. These executions were done by several methods like crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, stoning, burning alive, impalement, hanging and so on.
How many countries carry out judicial executions?
According to Amnesty International's 2014 report on death penalties, in 2013, at least 778 executions were reported in 22 countries, 96 more than in 2012. With at least 369 executions in the year, Iran leads the list. It is followed by Iraq (169+), Saudi Arabia (79+), USA (39) and Somalia, where at least 34 judicial executions took place. Other countries that reported more than 10 executions were Sudan and Yemen. The global executions figure does not include China which is believed to have been executed thousands of convicts. China classifies death penalty as a state secret. The report also shows that at least 1,925 people were sentenced to death in 57 countries in 2013. As of 2013, there are 23,392 death row inmates globally. The methods of execution range from beheading, hanging, lethal injection to shooting.
How many countries
have abolished the death sentence?
Amnesty International reports that as of the end of 2013, more than two-thirds of all countries have abolished death penalty in law or in practice. There are 98 countries which have abolished it for all crimes. Most of these are in Western Europe and the Americas. Seven countries, including Brazil, Chile and Kazakhstan have abolished it for ordinary crimes. In these countries, death penalty can only be given for exceptional crimes such as crime committed under military law or under exceptional circumstances. Another 35 countries are categorized as abolitionist in practice. These retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes, but there have been no executions in the past 10 years. The death sentence is retained by the legal system of 58 countries. More than half of the world's population lives in these countries.
What do opponents of capital punishment say?
They say that it is possible for innocent people to get executed because of unfair and discriminatory application of the death penalty. Studies across the world have shown that in most cases the person sentenced to death is from an economically and socially backward section of society, indicating the inability to hire good lawyers to contest their cases. Many studies have suggested that there is no evidence to show that capital punishment has any effect on murder rates. It is also argued that the sentence is a denial of human rights and sends a wrong message — that killing is acceptable under certain circumstances.