Death Penalty Worldwide

FAQ

What kind of information will I find in the Death Penalty Worldwide Database?

The database provides information on the laws and practices related to the application of the death penalty for every country in the world that retains capital punishment. Our goal is to provide a complete picture of the legal framework in which the death penalty applies as well as a description of the way the death penalty is implemented in practice. The database also summarizes recent legal and political developments that shed light on each country’s debate on capital punishment.

The database includes the following categories of information, all of which are searchable, and some of which may be used as filters to restrict the scope of a search:

  • General country details: geographical region, population, official language, etc.
  • Basic death penalty information: retentionist/abolistionist de facto status, number of death row inmates, date of the last execution, etc.
  • The death penalty in law: list of crimes which are punishable by death, types of offenders who may be excluded from execution (minors, the mentally ill, etc.), international legal commitments (whether a country has signed and/or acceded to international human rights treaties placing limits on or prohibiting the death penalty), and death penalty procedure (description of the appellate process, the clemency process, the use of juries, etc.).
  • The death penalty in practice: prison conditions, quality of state-provided legal representation, number of ethnic minorities, women, and foreigners on death row, recent legal and political developments in the application of the death penalty, etc.
  • Decisions of international human rights bodies: decisions by the Human Rights Committee, U.N. Special Rapporteur reports, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, etc.

For more details, see our Research Methodology and Glossary.

What kind of information will I NOT find in the Death Penalty Worldwide Database?

What you will not find on this website:

  • Descriptions of individual cases.
    While the database includes descriptions of nationally-significant cases deciding landmark legal issues (for example, cases upholding the constitutionality of the death penalty or limiting its application), the database does not typically provide summaries of facts and legal proceedings in specific cases. There are several reasons for this. First, the database aims at setting out the legal framework in which the death penalty is applied in order to illuminate the context of individual cases. Second, in some countries, restrictive government policies make it very difficult or even impossible to obtain information about individual prisoners facing the death penalty. Finally, for a number of countries in which information relating to capital prosecutions is publicly available, there are already excellent websites which track case developments. For instance, comprehensive data about death row inmates in the United States may be found at the Death Penalty Information Center.
  • A news feed on death penalty topics.
    The simple reason for this is that top-notch resources of this kind already exist. Websites such as Hands Off Cain and La peine de mort dans le monde (in French) are excellent clearinghouses for up-to-date capital punishment news, and regularly post press releases, articles, and reports on current developments related to the death penalty (see our Links page for more websites that provide information on the death penalty).

Why don't I see every country in the world in the database?

The goal of the database is to provide legal information and analysis about the current law and practice of capital punishment around the world. Our research therefore left aside countries that have abolished the death penalty.

It is not always a simple matter, however, to assign the black-and-white labels of "abolitionist" and "retentionist." We include in our database those countries under whose laws the death penalty is a legal criminal punishment. If a country has carried out an execution in the past ten years, we call it "retentionist." If capital punishment is on a country’s statute books, but no execution has been carried out in the past ten years, we call it "abolitionist de facto," acknowledging that the path to abolition can include intermediate stages, but also recognizing that where the law allows it, capital punishment can very quickly become a feature of the criminal justice system once more. (These are the definitions adopted by the United Nations Secretary General in her quinquennial reports regarding the status of the death penalty worldwide.)

We did not, however, include countries that have abolished the death penalty for "ordinary crimes" (crimes defined in criminal codes or by the common law, such as aggravated murder or rape), but may retain it for crimes occurring under extraordinary circumstances, such as treason, war crimes or crimes against humanity. According to Amnesty International, as of February 2012 there are seven countries which have abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes: Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Fiji, Israel, Kazakstan, and Peru. 

For more on the definition of a country’s death penalty law status, see our Glossary.

Does the Death Penalty Worldwide Database endorse a particular viewpoint on capital punishment?

The researchers who compiled the information for the database have varying viewpoints on capital punishment. Our overriding objective is to provide accurate research on the death penalty that is both reliable and transparent. In order to maximize the transparency of our data, we provide sources for each fact cited in the database so that readers can gauge for themselves the accuracy of our analysis. On occasion, we analyze legal or political developments in our answers to questions that call for a more subjective assessment, but even here, readers should be able to verify our analysis by looking to the original sources.

There is also a great deal of qualitative information on the website regarding international legal issues and best practices. Our overall aim, with regard to these sections of the website, is to promote the application of international norms that restrict the application of the death penalty. We are currently developing a manual of best practices for attorneys who represent individuals facing the death penalty that aims to improve the quality of justice for indigent defendants around the world.

How do I search the database?

The database allows you to use filters (e.g. countries in a geographical region, or countries with a certain number of executions in a year) to focus on certain countries, and call up descriptive information about the death penalty in those countries (e.g. which crimes are punishable by death, what the clemency process is, and whether the government provides indigent capital defendants with legal representation). For more help, see our Search Tips.

What kinds of sources does the database draw upon?

Wherever possible, our first choice was to use primary sources such as the original texts of laws and judicial decisions. Where these were not available, we relied on reports by United Nations organizations and reputable NGOs, scholarly publications, and media articles. We made every effort to corroborate information and obtain clarification from local experts. All of our sources are referenced in our footnotes.

For a more detailed description of the sources used in our research, see our Research Methodology page.

Where can I locate the sources used in your research?

In almost all cases, you can locate our sources based on the information provided in our footnotes.

A significant number of our sources are available online, and in many cases our footnotes include URL addresses. For some organizations’ documents (e.g. U.N. documents or reports by large NGOs), our footnotes do not include a URL, but do include an official number which should make the document easily accessible from the organization’s website. (All U.N. documents, for instance, are retrievable from the Official Documents System Search [http://www.un.org/en/documents/ods/].)

We also used many print sources – law codes, books and scholarly articles – which are only available in hard copy. While for the time being you must track down these items in libraries and bookstores, our long-term ambition is to provide direct, clickable access to downloadable PDFs of all our sources.

Some of our information, especially with regard to death penalty practices where official sources are unreliable, is not available in print at all. In those cases, we take great care in vetting the quality of our sources. Most often, this information derives from conversations with local country experts.

If you need more information, check our Resources page, which contains references to numerous print and online sources. For specific country research, you can find a list of helpful publications and contact information for local organizations working on death penalty issues by checking the "Additional Sources and Contacts" questions on the Advanced Search page. For research on specific death penalty topics, check our International Legal Issues page.

How current is the information in the database, and how frequently is it updated?

Every search result appears with an "Information Current As Of" date, which represents the date the research for that country was last updated. Occasionally, if the research was completed over a long period of time, the final Comments section will indicate when the bulk of the research was completed.

We anticipate that every country in the database will be updated in the coming year. Thereafter, the Death Penalty Worldwide will be updated continuously on a rolling basis. Users may also check and update data by consulting these Resources.

The database does not answer my question. Where can I find further information?

Check our Resources page, which contains references to numerous print and online sources. For specific country research, you can find a list of helpful publications and contact information for local organizations working on death penalty issues by checking the "Additional Sources and Contacts" section on the Advanced Search page. For research on specific death penalty topics, check the thematic references on our International Legal Issues page.

Read our Research Methodology for a description of the difficulties to expect in conducting research on the death penalty worldwide.

I like / hate something about the database, or I have found a mistake in the database. Where can I send feedback or a correction?

Email us. We appreciate feedback and we’re eager to improve this database and website.

Last updated on October 25, 2011

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