Worldwide Trends

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Abolition of the death penalty has been a worldwide trend since 1977, with Roman Catholic-influenced Latin American countries and post-communist Eastern Europe joining the ranks of abolitionist countries during the 1980s. Currently, there are 88 abolitionist countries, 68 countries that retain the death penalty, 30 that retain it but haven't used it in the past 10 years, and 11 that have abolished it in all but "special circumstances."

Demographically, retentionist countries tend to have large and growing populations. rapidly developing Asian countries have increased the number of retentionist countries with industrialized societies in recent times. The only four developed, democratic nations that retain capital punishment are Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States. Although not all states in the U.S. allow the death penalty, it is counted among retentionist nations because federal law allows it.

In 2004, The People's Republic of China accounted for more than 90 percent of executions worldwide with more than 3,400. In 2005, the United States executed 60 people.

Crime and Punishment

Historically, societies have used capital punishment to punish crimes as varied as theft, cowardice, and treason and to deter political insubordination. Today, countries that retain capital punishment most often reserve it as a punishment for murder and treason.

Moratoria and Juveniles

Notably, the European Union and Council of Europe require abolition of the death penalty as a condition of membership. Belarus has refused this moratorium, which is known to be the main reason it has not joined the Council of Europe.

Of the countries that retain the death penalty, seven allow it for juveniles (people under 18): Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. According to customary international law determined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the death sentence for juveniles is no longer acceptable.