Death Penalty Worldwide (DPW) was founded in April 2011 by Professor Sandra Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell University Law School, in partnership with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Worldwide aims to bridge critical gaps in research and advocacy around the death penalty. First, it provides comprehensive, transparent data regarding death penalty laws and practices in the 87 countries and territories that retain capital punishment. Second, it publishes reports and manuals on issues of practical relevance to defense lawyers, governments, courts and organizations grappling with questions relating to the application of the death penalty, particularly in the global south. Third, it engages in targeted advocacy focusing on the implementation of international fair trial standards and the rights of those who come into conflict with the law, including juveniles, women, and individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses.
The database is the centerpiece of the Death Penalty Worldwide project, and was designed to meet the needs of judges, policymakers, scholars, lawyers, journalists, and human rights advocates for comprehensive information regarding the application of the death penalty around the world. We believe that access to information is vital to inform policy decisions and legal analysis relating to capital punishment. Transparency is paramount in the documentation of human rights violations and in the development of strategies to implement international norms relating to the death penalty. Access to information is also critical to determine what the law is, particularly when it comes to customary international law. Because the emergence of universal human rights norms under customary international law is predicated on trends in state practice, understanding how the majority of states restrict capital punishment is critical to the development of new standards and the elaboration of global abolition strategies. In the past, gathering this kind of comparative information—for instance, in how many countries the mandatory death penalty has been ruled contrary to fair trial guarantees—required extensive and painstaking research. The database’s advanced search capabilities, which are unique among human rights databases, allow users to combine sixty-five different variables and can provide answers in a matter of seconds.
The database provides easy access to data regarding the practices and laws of individual countries, and permits users to search across jurisdictions to compare state practice in a wide variety of areas. Locating reliable data on many issues relating to the death penalty is notoriously difficult—particularly for qualitative questions, such as the competence of capital defense counsel. Even more prosaic questions, such as whether national courts have issued significant decisions relating to the application of the death penalty, are not easy to answer in countries that rarely publish judicial decisions. For those countries that treat information regarding the death penalty as a state secret, it is particularly challenging to find objective and reliable sources regarding death row demographics and execution practices. When a definitive conclusion cannot be reached, our research sets out the available information and offers a cautious, informed assessment of state practice. To ensure that database users can gauge the accuracy of our information, we provide sources for each fact cited in the database.
Death Penalty Worldwide also aims to address issues that have received scant attention from other organizations and scholars. For example, in June 2013, DPW published the first international best practices manual for capital defense lawyers. Lawyers from Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, Guinea, Belgium, France, Portugal and the United States contributed to the manual, which draws from international human rights law, national jurisprudence, and the practical experience of defense attorneys around the world. Lawyers in the global south often receive no training in the specialized field of capital defense. Consequently, their clients are often deprived of their fair trial rights, including their right to an effective defense. The risk of wrongful conviction also rises dramatically when prisoners are represented by poorly trained and inadequately prepared lawyers. Our manual provides practical guidance for all stages of a capital case, including pretrial detention, investigation of mitigating evidence, trial strategy, appeals, and petitions to international human rights bodies. The manual is available on our website in English, French and Chinese here: http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/dpw-publications.cfm.
Finally, Death Penalty Worldwide engages in advocacy in targeted countries with local partners, focusing on the implementation of international human rights norms such as the right to individualized sentencing, the need for a competent defense, and the bar on the execution of juvenile offenders and individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities. In collaboration with Cornell Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, DPW has been engaged for several years in a project focused on the rights of prisoners given mandatory death sentences in Malawi. Through sustained engagement over a period of six years, DPW was able to train lawyers, paralegals, judges, mental health workers, and prison staff about the role of mitigating evidence, the need to conduct background investigations before sentencing proceedings, and the importance of assessing the mental health of prisoners facing the death penalty. DPW helped build a local coalition that pressed for resentencing hearings for approximately 175 prisoners, resulting in the immediate release (as of May 2015) of 15 prisoners who had formerly been sentenced to death, and the imposition of reduced sentences for an additional 9 prisoners. More hearings are scheduled for the remainder of 2015.
Sandra Babcock is Faculty Director and founder of the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. As a Clinical Professor and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell University Law School, she specializes in international human rights litigation, access to justice, death penalty defense, international gender rights, and the application of international law in US courts. With her clinic students, she has spent several years working on access to justice for prisoners in Malawi, where their advocacy has led to the release of 70 prisoners since 2007. She is also counsel to the Government of Mexico in the cases of Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in the United States, and was Mexico’s counsel before the International Court of Justice in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals. For her work, she was awarded the Aguila Azteca, the highest honor bestowed by the government of Mexico upon citizens of foreign countries, in 2003. Professor Babcock has argued cases before the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Courts of California, Texas, Minnesota, and New Mexico.
John Blume is the Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project and Professor at Cornell Law School. He is one of the foremost death penalty practitioners in the United States, with particular expertise on the application of the death penalty to individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses. Internationally, he has been involved for the past four years in several projects related to improving the quality of capital defense in China. The first capital punishment clinic in China, launched by Professor Hongyao Wu of China University of Political Science and Law in 2010, is the result of an ongoing collaboration with Professor Blume. Each year, the Cornell Death Penalty Project hosts a Chinese visiting scholar who researches capital punishment, and Professor Blume has given a number of presentations regarding the current status and use of the death penalty in China.
Delphine Lourtau is the Executive Director of the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. She has lectured widely on international law and the death penalty, and has been consulted by numerous media outlets for her expertise regarding the practical application of the death penalty in selected countries. Her concern for fundamental rights in the criminal justice process was cemented by early experiences at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and capital criminal defense work. She has also practiced as a civil rights lawyer in the United States, representing victims of police misconduct in the war on drugs. Following her graduation from McGill University in Montreal with degrees in common law and civil law, she clerked for Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada, and completed an LLM at New York University School of Law. She also holds a Masters degree from the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris.
Gathering reliable data on the laws and practices of 91 countries and territories is no small challenge. To meet this challenge, we have relied on a talented and well-trained team who collectively devoted thousands of hours to this project, most on a volunteer basis. All of them deserve enormous credit for the labor-intensive and meticulous research they conducted. Our partners at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have been our most steadfast supporters over the years, and we are particularly grateful to Aurélie Plaçais, Maria Donatelli, and Priscilla Petit for their critical role in transforming our ideas into reality.
Among the researchers responsible for the initial research conducted before the launch of Death Penalty Worldwide, Ronit Arie, Brook Miscoski, and Sophie Colmant deserve special mention. We also would like to recognize and thank the following individuals for their commitment to this project: Mahmoud Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Dr. Nizam Assaf, Vanessa Arroyo Boy, Jennifer Bailey, Sophia Bairaktaris, Jeanne Bishop, Muneeb Bokhari, John Cacharani, Emile Carreau, Guillaume Colin, Katia Colin, Yvette Diaz, Maria Donatelli, Jessica Dwinell, Jeff Engstrom, Penelope Faulkner, Fatima Ferrer, Delia Flores, Richard Fielding, Abigail Flynn, Allison Freedman, Maribeth Gainard, Danielle Goldman, Shin Hahn, Saleem Halteh, Juliet Han, Melissa Hindman, Inês Horta Pinto, Tomas Hubert, Anna Jackson, Apoorvaa C. Joshi, Rachel Katzman, Catrina Kim, Akhila Kolisetty, Joan Kyomugisha, Nikki (Soeun) Lee, Hsin-Yi Lin, Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Tianyin (Nunu) Luo, Jade Martin, Liliana Martin, Maria Martinez, Nicolas Martinez, DeLaine Mayer, Lisa Mazzone, Kristin McCaffrey, Sathyanandh Mohan, Shimelis Mulugeta, Sultana Noon, Henri Ariston Nzedom, Vanessa Oh, Shubra Ohri, Alexis Ortiz, Katie Pelech, Nicolas Perron, Gokila Pillai, Aurelie Placais, Eric Prokosch,Virginia Richardson, Ricardo Sanchez, Heather Scheiwe, Alison Shah, Kai Sheffield, Sophie Abu Soboh, Maiko Tagusari, Julie Vautard, Vamika Venkatesan, and Mark Warren.
This project would not have been possible without the financial backing of the European Union and the Proteus Action League. We are very grateful for their support.
Last updated on October 20, 2016