The Death Penalty- an Ongoing International Human Rights Issue

By: Tanya Kramer

I remember writing a college paper 20 years ago about my belief that the the death penalty should end. 

I believed this on principle, but also learned in my deep dive how many people are wrongly convicted in death penalty cases. 

I remember going to a panel speaking engagement in my early 20s and listening to someone who spent over 30 years in prison for a death penalty case, and then was exonerated. I felt both moved and sickened that we continue to engage with using the death penalty in the United States when most first-world countries have ended this practice. Since 1973, at least 195 people were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the United States before being exonerated and released. 

We may never know how many people have been wrongly convicted and then put to death.

In 2014, there was a study published in the “Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences”. This study reported that one out of 25 people sentenced to death are likely innocent. So if 1,320 people were executed between 1977 and 2013, that would mean that over 50 people have been executed who were innocent (averaging at least one person per year).

Based on reporting from the website “Death Penalty Information Center”, there are at least 20 cases where there is enough evidence to question whether people who have already been executed might have been innocent. 

You can learn more here.

Amnesty International continues to focus energy and attention on the death penalty because they report it “breaches human rights, in particular, the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. These rights are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

In a recent Amnesty International (AI) newsletter, AI provided the following facts:

  • AI started working on this issue in 1977 when only 16 countries had totally abolished the death penalty
  • Today in 2023, 112 countries have abolished the death penalty (more than half the world’s countries)
  • More than two-thirds of all countries are abolitionists in practice even if it is not in their laws
  • Unfortunately in 2022, there has been an alarming spike in executions, marking a 53% increase since 2021 and the highest number of executions since 2017 (which does not include the believed to be thousands of executions in China last year)
  • The US was no exception to this disturbing trend where the execution rate increased from 2021 to 2022 by 64%

According to Amnesty International, executions across the world are concentrated in these countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States (in that order). Amnesty International proposed the need to abolish the death penalty for the following key reasons:

  • It is irreversible and mistakes happen
  • It does not deter crime
  • It is often used within skewed justice systems
  • It is discriminatory
  • It is used as a political tool

Consider becoming involved in Amnesty International or other organizations that address this important Human Rights Concern. 

Learn more by exploring these websites:

 Amnesty International

The Death Penalty Information Center 

The Innocents Project

Universal Declaration of Human Rights