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Access to Courts
Some individuals facing the death penalty lack access to impartial courts at trial and on appeal, in violation of every major human rights instrument.
Arbitrariness and the Death Penalty
Capital sentencing after unfair proceedings or tainted with racial, ethnic, geographic, economic, or other disparities violates international laws that prohibit states from taking people’s lives arbitrarily.
Death Row Conditions
Deplorable conditions on death row, including overcrowding, inadequate facilities, insufficient food, and subpar medical care, violate international norms and threaten prisoners’ health and lives.
Death Row Phenomenon
Recent jurisprudence supports the notion that prolonged incarceration under sentence of death, known as the “death row phenomenon,” constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.
International human rights law prohibits the discriminatory application of the death penalty on the grounds of race or ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics.
International law mandates that states strictly observe fair trial guarantees in capital cases, but many death penalty states fail to provide adequate procedural protections to capital defendants.
Some countries prohibit the application of the death penalty for individuals who are over a certain age at the time of the offense or sentence.
Many abolitionist countries refuse to extradite fugitives to death penalty states without assurances that authorities will not seek capital punishment.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires that states give detained foreign nationals facing capital charges immediate notice of their right to communicate with their consular representative.
Innocence and Wrongful Convictions
Many countries that practice capital punishment do not ensure that individuals receive fair trials, resulting in the conviction and execution of innocent people.
The execution of intellectually disabled individuals violates international law, but most death penalty countries lack diagnostic capacity and fail to adequately protect intellectually disabled individuals from capital punishment.
Juvenile Offenders and the Death Penalty
International customary law prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders, but juveniles may be executed in countries that lack national birth registries or legislation prohibiting the practice.
Most retentionist states, lacking trained lawyers and resources, do not provide effective legal representation to people facing the death penalty.
Mandatory Death Penalty
At least 28 countries continue to apply the mandatory death penalty, although a growing number of national courts recognize that under international law, mandatory death sentences are arbitrary and inhumane.
Although executing people with serious mental illness is unlawful under international law, many death penalty states continue to execute mentally ill prisoners.
Methods of Execution
Retentionist countries use a variety of execution methods, most of which international law deems cruel, inhuman, or degrading.
Moratoriums on executions play an increasingly important role in eliminating the death penalty but are vulnerable to expiration and may delay the global strategy to abolish the death penalty.
Most Serious Crimes
International law restricts the death penalty to intentional crimes with lethal consequences.
Public Opinion on the Death Penalty
In-depth studies reveal that public support for the death penalty is more nuanced, less widespread, and less intense than opinion polls and public officials often suggest.