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Search Tips

You can display all of the information we have for a single country by check-marking "Select All" and then choosing the country name from the drop-down list of countries (the first drop-down list on the search page). If you are interested in one particular question, you can display the answer to that question for all of the countries in the database by simply check-marking the question. But you might want to try out our filters, which allow you to gather data tailored to your specific needs.

You can create broad filters by selecting many options from a drop down list or by selecting large minimum/maximum numeric ranges (for example, in the boxes under "Population," "Numbers of Individuals on Death Row," and "Numbers of Individuals Executed"). Using different filters together is what will really narrow your results.

Here are some examples of how you might tailor a search by using filters. For instance, perhaps you are only interested in the application of the death penalty in Africa. You can use our General Filters to restrict your search by selecting all of the African regions from Geographic Regions (you can select multiple options using the Ctrl key). Or, you may only be interested in death penalty laws and practices in countries that have executed individuals within the last 5 years. If this is the case, go to the section marked "Country Details" and enter a minimum year for "Year of Last Execution." We suggest you look over our General Filters and Country Details—they're designed to allow you to tailor your research based on geography and demographics. You can use as many filters as you like.

You can scroll through the search page and see that we offer filters in other categories as well—perhaps you're interested only in countries that authorize the death penalty for drug trafficking (refer to the section entitled "Crimes and Offenders Punishable by Death"), or you want to see which countries have voted in favor of the U.N. General Assembly's latest moratorium resolution (refer to the section entitled "International Commitments"). You should look over these other filters, which allow you to tailor your research based on laws and practices. Again—you can use as many filters as you like, and from as many categories as you like.

We have a number of questions that can't be used as filters—these are questions that don't offer a drop-down list, min/max filter, or keyword search (other than the "keyword search across all fields"). Check-marking their boxes will still allow you to see the data we've gathered in response to these questions, but it will not narrow your search results. You'll notice that displaying an entire questionnaire is currently the only way you can see our research on whether a country provides attorneys for indigent appellants.

Now, for some technical details. When you look through our search options, you will notice that you can perform five kinds of searches:

  1. You can check-mark a box, which will display our answer to a question (if you don't checkmark the box, our answer won't display—not even if you use the question as a filter).
  2. You can select from drop-down lists. Select as many options as you like by using the Ctrl key—this broadens the information that you will obtain (it is treated like a Boolean "OR").
  3. You can enter minimums and maximums. Use only numeric input, without any punctuation such as commas or decimal points.
  4. You can do a keyword search for a few questions. You cannot enter Boolean operators (such as "AND" or "OR"), so if you enter a phrase, our engine will look for that exact phrase. For this reason, you'll probably want to use simple keywords.
  5. You can also do a keyword search across all fields. Please note that this search will display the entire questionnaire for every country that contains your keyword. To find your keyword, you can use "ctrl-f" to make your way through the results. Again, you cannot use Boolean operators such as "AND" or "OR".

 

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Research Methodology

One major reason for this project is the lack of transparency and clarity in laws and information about the death penalty around the world. This was sometimes very frustrating to us—and we have all the resources that one could ask for. We have access to worldwide library networks, professional networks, and enjoy the benefits of a highly developed information network that quite often is standardized to our languages. The deck is stacked in our favor, and it still requires a good deal of time and determination not only to find what we're looking for, but also to figure out what that is in the first place.

It's hard to imagine the obstacles that people without these resources face in discovering the world of information beyond their own jurisdictions. It's also the case that it's often difficult for the citizen to discover, in print or any other format, the laws and practices of his own country—without first coming into contact with the criminal justice system. While this resource can't hope to solve such problems completely, it's the first generation of our attempt to bring each nation's death penalty law and practice to anyone with a few minutes and an internet connection.

We hope our efforts will help researchers and advocates as well as provide an enlightening view of the realities of the death penalty to those many who may lack the perspective to have an informed opinion.

One result of the lack of transparency and clarity on death penalty issues around the world is that researchers and advocates are not always in complete agreement. This presented a puzzle for us, because we of course used their work to help determine the scope of our research. Our solution was to turn to primary sources as much as possible—or, in English, read the laws and the cases whenever we could find them, and try to find reports by people or organizations with first-hand experience in a country. Occasionally we differ from those who have gone before us (and we are grateful for the far more numerous times when their research has made ours easier or more accurate). We've cited and explained our answers for your use and evaluation. We encountered a few difficulties that we hope will be addressed by future generations of this project. First, we did not always find as many laws and cases as we would have liked, and sometimes had to turn to secondary resources (in English, reports about the law by NGOs, journal articles, books, and that sort of thing). Second, we sometimes had to make judgment calls about conflicting data about death penalty practice, or determine when a holistic human rights report was discussing death penalty issues. Third, while we were fortunate to have attorneys familiar with Common and Civil Law, our interaction with individuals highly experienced with Shari'a law and customary law was limited, although we did consult scholarly resources and obtain copious amounts of information.

We hope that future generations of this project will be driven by interaction with a broadening network of individuals with first-hand experience with individual countries and systems of law. We have done our utmost to provide you with a fair, transparent and useful representation of death penalty law and practice around the world, and expect that this is a big first step towards a universal resource.

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Glossary

This glossary offers definitions of terms we use in the database and provides context for other information we provide.

Some of the items in this glossary are more fully explained in documents available on the DPW website under "International Legal Issues."

Primary Filters, Country Details

Abolitionist de facto: A country that retains the death penalty on its statute books for ordinary offenses, but has not carried out an execution within the past 10 years. This is the definition adopted by the United Nations Secretary General in its quinquennial reports regarding the status of the death penalty worldwide.

Abolitionist for Ordinary Crimes Only: A country that has abolished the death penalty for ordinary offenses, such as those ordinarily contained in a penal code or recognized by common law (for example, aggravated murder or robbery with violence), but may retain the death penalty for treason, war crimes or crimes against humanity. Our database does not include the 7 countries that fall within this classification: Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Fiji, Israel, Kazakstan, and Peru. 

Abolitionist: A country that has abolished the death penalty completely. Our database does not include countries that are abolitionist or abolitionist for ordinary crimes only.

Annual Number of Reported Executions: We used Amnesty International's Death Sentences and Executions reports, but occasionally used other reporting, including where Amnesty did not report exact numbers.

Geographical Region: As classified by the U.N.

Method of Execution: This tracks methods that are authorized by statute or used by the state to execute judicially awarded death sentences.

Number of Individuals Under Sentence of Death: Because we were unable to send researchers to visit death rows around the world, we compiled these figures by relying on a variety of sources, including Mark Warren's terrific website, Amnesty International, Hands Off Cain, and news reports. Typically, no one source gives complete, up-to-date figures.

Official Country Name: Usually, the name on file with the U.N., or stated in the country's constitution.

Official Language: As opposed to the national language or a common language, the official languages recognized by the government.

Population: Usually as reported by the U.S. Department of State (which may be using the World Factbook).

Retentionist: A country that retains the death penalty on its statute books for ordinary offenses, and has carried out an execution within the past 10 years.

Year of Last Known Execution: The year in which the latest execution occurred.

Crimes and Offenders Punishable by Death

Adultery: This is a death-eligible offense only in certain countries that apply Shari'a law. Zina is an offense that is broader than breach of marital vows and includes, depending on the school of Islamic law, adultery, fornication, and homosexual sodomy.

Arson: Usually, the intentional burning of a structure.

Burglary: Usually, home invasion.

Drug Possession: Death-eligibility for this offense is usually based on a presumption that possession is for the purpose of trafficking.

Economic Crimes not Resulting in Death: This includes offenses such as bribery, counterfeiting, securities offenses, and the like. Occasionally we included smuggling and other black market operations.

Espionage: Spying or revealing or misusing state secrets.

Kidnapping, Human Trafficking: These two offenses are distinct but related. In the crime of kidnapping, individuals are abducted or held for ransom. In human trafficking, individuals are exploited for the purposes of sex trafficking, labor trafficking, or slavery. They do not necessarily need to be abducted in order to be victims of human trafficking.

Mandatory Death Penalty: In states with a mandatory death penalty, courts impose automatic death sentences for certain crimes without regard to mitigating factors. The fact that the offender may be pardoned or his sentence commuted is irrelevant to whether the death penalty is considered mandatory. What matters, for purposes of our definition, is whether the courts are entitled to exercise judicial discretion in sentencing offenders to death. The phrase "liable to suffer death" does not always connote a mandatory death penalty. As we note in our country-specific comments, the phrase is subject to varying interpretations and is not invariably construed as mandating a death sentence.

Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death: These offenses include a range of behavior, including a breach of military duty or discipline, desertion, cowardice, insubordination, and other acts.

Murder Offenses (Murder, Aggravated Murder, Other Offenses Resulting in Death): These offenses were quite difficult to categorize, because jurisdictions do not define murder offenses consistently. A short explanation is in order.

We categorized homicides in the following categories:

Aggravated Murder: includes intentional killing with aggravating factors, including cruelty, killing of certain officials or of a person to whom a duty is owed (such as a parent or a child or a helpless person), and other factors. This category also includes killings that involved substantial premeditation (such as actual planning or lying in wait). (Homicide with aggravating factors.)

Murder: Includes intentional killing with momentary premeditation, and encompasses the concept of premeditation typically encountered in common law countries, where even the most abbreviated thought process prior to the act of killing constitutes "premeditation." Some countries may not require proof of premeditation.

Other Offenses Resulting in Death: Includes crimes in which there was no intent to kill but the offender nevertheless caused - directly or indirectly - the victim's death. It also includes killings where the offender's role in the death of the victim may be extremely attenuated, as well as offenses such as "perjury resulting in execution of an innocent person." This category encompasses felony murder, a doctrine under which any participant in a potentially life-threatening crime can, if death results, be prosecuted for capital murder.

These classifications have both strengths and weaknesses. While it is helpful to classify offenses into broad categories for purposes of research, it is not always possible to account for nuances in the application of criminal laws. For example, in some civil law systems (as in France), killing with "premeditation" is "assassination" - an aggravated murder that involves more than momentary contemplation before the act. This seemed to us more akin to the common law concept of "lying in wait," which involves a situation like an ambush and entails far greater planning and thought than ordinary premeditated murder. For this reason, we classified premeditated murders such as "assassination" under the category of aggravated murder.

Rape: The definition of rape varies from country to country, and may range from sexual assaults involving penetration, to a broader range of sexual assaults.

Shari'a: Shari'a law is Islamic law, and is based on the Quran, the Sunnah, and a number of other, less authoritative sources through which Islamic law was developed and is interpreted and applied. The following list is not comprehensive, but familiarity with these common terms may assist you in understanding our description of Shari'a-influenced law:

Penalties:

Hudud (hadd, haddoud): Hudud is a claim of God. A person who has breached a religiously stipulated limit on human behavior is liable to hudud, a mandatory penalty.

Qisas: Qisas is a private claim-harm for harm. In our database, it refers to the victim's heirs' right to have a killer executed for an intentional homicide. Qisas is mandatory, but can be forgiven by the victim's family.

Diya (diyat): Diya is a private claim-compensation paid for an injury. In our database, it is a payment of blood money to secure a pardon from the victim's family. In some cases, the victim's family is free to pardon the offender without receiving diya.

Ta'zir: Ta'zir refers to penalties for offenses determined at the discretion of the public authority. In today's world, the discretionary or mandatory nature of those penalties usually depends on statutory provisions. Ta'zir penalties might be instituted for several reasons: (1) to address offenses not described or penalized in the Quran or Sunna; (2) to provide for penalties when the evidence for applying a qisas or hudud penalty is lacking; or (3) to enhance a hudud penalty for recidivism or other aggravating factors.

Selected Hudud Offenses:

Apostasy: Although we do not use the Shari'a terms (for example, ridda or irtidad), the offense is worth describing here. There is debate over whether apostasy means leaving the religion or else must include some serious threat to the ummah (community of Islam). In practice, the countries that apply the death penalty for apostasy also do so for a range of offenses such as blasphemy, witchcraft and sorcery. It is not uncommon to see a number of offenses treated similarly: leaving the religion, insulting the religion, or using or claiming some supernatural object or power. (We have, however, treated these offenses separately.)

Hirabah: Hirabah refers to waging war against God and his Prophet or spreading corruption on earth. In practical terms, it means armed robbery, and under some circumstances can include armed robbery involving a home invasion. Because there are four possible penalties for hirabah, the mandatory penalty is often set by legislation. Some countries have a broader definition of hirabah, and we note this when it is applicable.

Zina: Zina is sex (involving anal or vaginal penetration) without the semblance of a legal right. In most schools of law, it refers to adultery, fornication, rape, and homosexual sodomy. The hudud penalty is usually death for married offenders and lashing and exile (in today's world, imprisonment) for unmarried offenders.

General terms:

Quran: The holy Book of Islam. The Quran sets serious temporal penalties for only two offenses: murder and hirabah.

Sunnah: Sayings attributed to the Prophet. Most hudud penalties are extrapolated from the Sunnah.

Terrorism: Not all states have enacted anti-terrorism laws. Some laws punishing activities such as hostage-taking, hijacking, and some other offenses can be categorized as terrorism laws, but might be applicable to non-terrorist activity. (For example, hijacking and hostage-taking may often occur in the course of non-terrorist activities, but we still made a note of the applicable laws when discussing terrorism.)

Treason: This may be narrowly defined as waging war against the nation or giving aid and comfort to her enemies, or broadly defined to include a wide range of political offenses. It varies by nation.

Selected offenders excluded from execution

In a few countries, the law expressly prohibits the execution of individuals who are mentally "insane" or "incompetent." In the United States, an individual is considered incompetent to be executed if he cannot rationally understand the reality of his execution and the reason why he will be executed. It was impossible for us to determine whether the majority of nations, in practice, prohibit the execution of offenders with mental illnesses. Most do not prohibit such executions by statute, but this does not lead us to conclude that such offenders are executed.

Individuals below age 18 at the time of the offense: This exclusion applies for crimes that are committed while the individual is below the age of 18. Thus, if a juvenile (say, 17) murders someone, he cannot be sentenced to death for that murder. It does not matter what age the person is when he is arrested, tried or sentenced.

International Legal Commitments: We listed international (and regional) legal commitments that might affect exclusions in each nation. However, the effect of these commitments on the administration of domestic law is not always clear, so further research is needed to determine which commitments are fully enforced in each country.

Mental Illness: In the majority of countries included in our database, offenders who are unable to understand the nature or consequences of their actions may not be held criminally liable. In other countries, mental illness or mental disability may reduce culpability. Additionally, many countries recognize that the state cannot prosecute an individual while his insanity renders him incompetent to assist in his own defense.

Mental Retardation: The vast majority of countries recognize that individuals with mental disabilities or severe mental illnesses may not be found criminally liable for actions committed as a result of their disability. In some countries, mental retardation may contribute to a finding that an individual was unable to understand the nature or consequences of his actions, or had a diminished ability to do so. Most nations, however, do not have statutes that distinguish between mental retardation and mental illness, and most do not statutorily prohibit the execution of individuals with mental illness or mental retardation.

Some countries expressly exclude individuals with mental disabilities from execution under any circumstances. There is no consistent definition of "mental retardation" or "mentally disabled" at an international level. In the United States, mental retardation is commonly defined as "a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, as expressed in many everyday social and practical skills." This disability must have originated before the age of 18.

This principle also should apply to a defendant or convicted person who, at the time of the offense, regardless of age, was similarly limited by dementia or a traumatic brain injury.

International Legal Commitments

U.N. Moratorium Resolution: This resolution expresses a commitment to a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

Cosponsors: The U.N. Moratorium Resolution emanates from the 3rd Committee; the cosponsors are the nations who voted to submit the Resolution to the General Assembly.

Note Verbale: This is a document signed by nations that wish to dissociate from the General Assembly's Resolution. It is a formal notification that these nations do not intend to be bound by the Resolution.

Death Penalty in Law

Appellate Process: The appellate process is the means by which a death-sentenced prisoner asks a higher court to review facts and/or legal issues that bear on the validity of his conviction and sentence. The appellate process includes any appeal to a court, but does not include clemency procedures.

Clemency Process: The clemency process is the means by which a condemned prisoner requests mercy from the executive. In many countries, clemency is an automatic process in which the executive determines whether the sentence of death should be carried out. It is distinct from the appeals process. In some countries - mainly those that apply some form of Islamic or customary law - clemency decisions may be made by the family of victim.

Constitution and international law: We were interested in whether a country's constitution recognizes international human rights protections or provides a mechanism for doing so.

Constitution and the death penalty: We were interested in whether a country's constitution references the right to life, explicitly limits the death penalty, or makes other rights-based references to the death penalty. We also noted other references to the death penalty.

Jury Trials: We do not define "jury" as an American-style jury. Instead, a jury is any group of laypersons that determines or assists the court in determining guilt and criminal penalties. To be considered a jury, a group of laypersons must be reasonably independent from all branches of government, and must not serve in a long-term professional capacity.

Official Moratorium: This question asks whether the country has adopted an official moratorium on executions-not a moratorium on death sentences. We define an official moratorium as when a legislative act imposes a moratorium or when the executive (which typically controls whether executions occur) commits to enforcing a moratorium. Occasionally, the judiciary plays a role in creating a moratorium.

Death Penalty in Practice

Ethnic/ Racial Composition of Death Row: We commented on race, ethnicity, and other protected status designations (such as religion), as well as migrant labor related issues. In some countries, disproportionate representation of certain groups on death row can indicate intentional use of the death penalty as an instrument of oppression and discrimination. In most cases, however, we believe such disparities are indicative of the state's failure to address social, cultural and legal inequities that lead to disproportionate application of the death penalty. This is an area that requires a great deal more research; for most countries we were not able to gather any significant data on this question.

Foreign Nationals: We tracked this information because foreign nationals are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory application of the laws. The presence of foreign nationals on death row also raises questions about compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Individuals on Death Row for Crimes Committed while under the age of 18: Even if a country provides by law that juvenile offenders may not be subjected to the death penalty, it is possible that some of these individuals may nonetheless end up on death row. This is often attributable to inadequate birth registry systems. Establishing a defendant's age at the time of his offense (particularly if he is tried well after committing it) can be difficult in these countries. A very small number of countries continue to sentence juvenile offenders to death.

Decisions of International Human Rights Bodies

Human Rights Committee: We summarize and comment on two kinds of document issued by the Committee: (1) Concluding observations and recommendations made pursuant to periodic review of compliance with the ICCPR; and (2) Decisions of the Committee on individual communications alleging violations of one or more provisions of the ICCPR.

Other Human Rights Bodies: We summarize and comment on a few different documents.

First, we always discuss the results of the Universal Periodic Review, when available. The Human Rights Council (a General Assembly body) recently began the Universal Periodic Review process. Through this process, the Human Rights Council conducts a review of all 192 Member nations of the United Nations recognized by the United Nations (as opposed to only those who are party to the ICCPR). NGOs, the government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights submit reports to the Council, which conducts an oral review of each state by posing questions to their official delegation. The Council then publishes a report with recommendations on human rights issues for that state, and the state issues a response accepting or rejecting the recommendations.

Second, we discuss an array of publications by other U.N. bodies, including General Assembly resolutions, observations of other treaty bodies such as the Torture Committee and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and reports of Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, among others.

Third, we discuss some reports and decisions of regional human rights treaty bodies.

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Last updated on November 2, 2011

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