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Report No. 262

Chapter III

International Trends

3.1 The international landscape regarding the death penalt.- both in terms of international law and state practic.- has evolved in the past decades. As compared to 1967, when the 35th Report of the Commission was issued, and 1980, when the Bachan Singh, (1980) 2 SCC 684, judgement was delivered, today a majority of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Even those who retain it, carry out far fewer executions than was the case some decades ago.

3.2 This chapter describes the transformation in the international landscape over the past decades, and the marked trend towards abolition in both international as well as domestic laws, through a study of applicable international law, political commitments and state practice.

3.3. The aim of this chapter is not to highlight international law norms applicable to the Indian state. Several treaties and instruments mentioned here have either not been signed or ratified by the Indian government, or are inapplicable to India for other reasons. Instead, this chapter provides an overview of the international landscape pertinent to the legal regulation of the death penalty, and the changes in it over time.

3.4 Internationally, countries are classified on their death penalty status, based on the following categories:126

  • Abolitionist for all crimes
  • Abolitionist for ordinary crimes127
  • Abolitionist de facto128
  • Retentionist

126 This system is followed by the United Nations and by non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International. See for example, "Capital punishment and implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty" Report of the Secretary-General, E/2015/49 [advance, unedited version] at page 4; See Annex II, Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2014, ACT 50/001/2015.

127 This means that "the death penalty has been abolished for all ordinary offences committed in peacetime, such as those contained in the criminal code or those recognized in common law (for example, murder, rape and robbery with violence). The death penalty is retained only for exceptional circumstances, such as military offences in time of war, or crimes against the State, such as treason, terrorism or armed insurrection"- Capital punishment and implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, Report of the Secretary- General, E/2015/49 [advance, unedited version] at page 4.

128 This refers to states where "the death penalty remains lawful and where death sentences may still be pronounced but where executions have not taken place for 10 years", or states "that have carried out executions within the previous 10 years but that have made an international commitment through the establishment of an official moratorium", Capital punishment and implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, Report of the Secretary- General, E/2015/49 [advance, unedited version] at page 4.

Amnesty International follows a slightly different definition: Countries which retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes such as murder but can be considered abolitionist in practice in that they have not executed anyone during the last 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions. Annex II, Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2014, ACT 50/001/2015.

3.5 At the end of 2014, 98 countries were abolitionist for all crimes, seven countries were abolitionist for ordinary crimes only, and 35 were abolitionist in practice, making 140 countries in the world abolitionist in law or practice. The list of 140 countries includes three that formally abolished the death penalty in 2015, i.e., Suriname, Madagascar and Fiji.129 58 countries are regarded as retentionist, who still have the death penalty on their statute book, and have used it in the recent past.130

129 See On the way out-with grisly exceptions, The Economist, 4 July 2015, available at
http://www.economist.com/news/international/21656666-few-countries-areapplying- death-penalty-more-freely-global-trend-towards (last viewed on 20.08.2015).

130 Annex II, Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions in 2014, Act 50/001/2015.

3.6 While only a minority of countries retain and use the death penalty, this list includes some of the most populous nations in the world, including India, China, Indonesia and the United States, making a majority of people in the world potentially subject to this punishment.

Sourced from The Economist: "On the way out-with grisly exceptions" The Economist, 4 July 2015, available at
http://www.economist.com/news/international/21656666-few-countriesare-applying-death-penalty-more-freely-global-trend-towards

3.7 This map shows four types of regions: the regions in red are retentionist, and use the death penalty for ordinary crimes; regions in orange-pink have abolished the death penalty in practice, and are abolitionist de facto; regions in dark pink have only retained the death penalty for exceptional crimes, and are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; and regions in light pink/white do not retain the death penalty and have abolished it for all crimes.



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