A Global View of America's Relationship with Capital Punishment

By Porubcansky, Mark | MinnPost.com, July 10, 2015 | Go to article overview

A Global View of America's Relationship with Capital Punishment


Porubcansky, Mark, MinnPost.com


China. Iran. Saudi Arabia. Iraq. The United States of America.

What you just read is, according to Amnesty International, a list of the countries that executed the largest numbers of prisoners in 2014.

While the U.S. Supreme Court was making huge news last month with its decisions on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, it also issued a ruling on another hot-button issue: capital punishment. The question before the court was a narrow one, whether Oklahoma's lethal injection procedure constituted cruel and unusual punishment. By a 5- 4 vote, the court said no.

But the opinions released June 28 reflected a bitter controversy within the court about capital punishment that coincides with polling indicating a decline in support for it among Americans.

The arguments for and against capital punishment (the mistakes, the question of deterrence, unequal application, etc.) are well established.

But the Amnesty report released earlier this year helps put that controversy into a global context. Simply put, the United States is part of a relatively small minority of countries - 22 in 2014 -- that still impose capital punishment. And it's fair to say that many Americans wouldn't normally choose the company the U.S. is keeping on that list. For a number of years now, the United States has been the only country in the Americas to execute anyone at all.

The office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, says 160 U.N. members have either abolished capital punishment or are not executing anyone. And Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, "The death penalty has no place in the 21st century." The European Union makes abolishing capital punishment a precondition for membership.

Amnesty, which keeps careful numbers on capital cases globally, acknowledges that in many countries, the figures are not public and it is hard to know how many people actually were executed. That is certainly true of China, which executes far more people than any other country. Amnesty thinks there were several thousand executions there last year, but China considers the figure a state secret. There were at least 289 in Iran, 90 in Saudi Arabia, 61 in Iraq and 35 in the U.S.

The next five were Sudan (at least 23), Yemen (22), Egypt (15), Somalia (14) and Jordan (11). Also not very inspiring company.

While the number of known executions worldwide fell last year, substantially more people were actually sentenced to death, Amnesty says. That's mostly due to large numbers in Nigeria and Egypt. Nigeria is battling the Boko Haram extremist group, and Egypt has been conducting mass trials of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had formed the previously government. …

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