Historically, capital punishment has been used in almost every part of the world. Currently, the large majority of countries have either abolished or discontinued the practice. The U.S. is the most developed country to use the death penalty. The use of capital punishment is usually divided into the four categories set out below. As of November 2017, of the 195 independent states that are UN members or have UN observer status:
- 54 retain it in both law and practice.
- 29 have abolished it de facto, namely, according to Amnesty International standards, that they have not executed anyone during the last decade or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions.
- 7 have abolished it de facto, namely that they have not executed anyone during the last 14 or more years and have abolished it de jure, but retain it for exceptional or special circumstances (such as crimes committed in wartime).
- 105 have abolished it for all crimes, most recently: Madagascar (2015), Fiji (2015), Republic of the Congo (2015), Suriname (2015), Nauru (2016), Benin (2016), Mongolia (2017), Guinea (2017), Burkina Faso (2018).
- Execution of minors
- Since 2009, Iran and Saudi Arabia have executed offenders who were under the age of 18 (or 21) at the time the crime was committed.
- Public execution
- In 2013, public executions were carried out by the governments of Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia.
- Extrajudicial execution
- In some countries (like the Philippines and the United States of America) the practice of outside their own formal legal frameworks occurs sporadically or systematically. Information on this is not covered in this article.
Countries categorized as 'very high' on Human Development Index
Of the countries/regions categorized as 'very high' on the Human Development Index, 8 countries perform capital punishment: the United States, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Taiwan. In South Korea and Russia, there is a moratorium. Qatar and Brunei have a moratorium in practice. In Israel and Chile, it can only be used for crimes committed in wartime.
In Africa, there are several countries that use the death penalty. Chad abolished the death penalty in 2014, but reintroduced it for acts of terrorism in 2015. Botswana and Nigeria are examples of countries that still execute people. Most recently, Burkina Faso repealed the death penalty in 2018. In 2018, The Gambia announced a moratorium as a first step toward abolition.
In the Caribbean countries, the death penalty exists at least de jure, except in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which abolished it in 1966 and 1987, respectively. The last execution in the Caribbean, and the last in the Americas outside the United States, was in Saint Kitts and Nevis in 2008. In Central and South America, the death penalty exists in Belize and Guyana, though it has not been used for years. In Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru, the death penalty is only legal in exceptional/special circumstances such as for crimes committed in wartime and was abolished for other crimes. Opinion polls state sentiment for governments to return to capital punishment remains high in many Caribbean countries and pressure on politicians to retain it factors high.
Most executions worldwide take place in Asia. China is the world's most active death penalty country. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, the numbers of executions are also very high. In North Korea, the state utilizes the death penalty against high level criminals and those suspected of committing "grave" offenses. Of the 8 countries with a “very high” Human Development Index which practice executions, 7 are in Asia: Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2017 Mongolia repealed the death penalty. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte wants to restore executions, but the proposal to do so failed to pass the Senate. Turkish President Recep Erdogan has stated that he wants to restore capital punishment, but this has not happened. India executes criminals only in extreme cases. Only 26 executions have taken place in India since 1991, the last of the terrorist Yakub Memon in 2015.
The European Union holds a strong position against the death penalty; its abolition is a key objective for the Union's human rights policy. Abolition is also a pre-condition for entry into the European Union. In Europe, only Belarus and the unrecognized Donetsk People's Republic continue to actively use capital punishment.
Russian Federation and former Soviet republics
Russia retains the death penalty in law, but there is a moratorium. The last execution on Russian territory was in Chechnya in 1999.
Of the other former Soviet republics, only Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan have not formally abolished capital punishment, and only Belarus uses it in practice. In Kazakhstan, it may only be used in exceptional/special circumstances such as for crimes committed in wartime, and only one individual is on death row.
Nearly all countries in this region have abolished the death penalty as a form of punishment, and the two countries that still have it in law (Papua New Guinea and Tonga) have not used it in years. The last known executions in this region took place in Tonga in 1982.
Numbers executed in 2017
At least 23 countries performed executions in 2017:
- Africa (3 countries): Egypt (35+), Somalia (24 [Puntland 12, Federal Government of Somalia 12]), South Sudan (4)
- Americas (1 country): United States (23)
- Asia-Pacific (18 countries): Afghanistan (5), Bahrain (3), Bangladesh (6), China (1,551+), Iran (525+), Iraq (111+), Japan (4), Jordan (15), Kuwait (7), Malaysia (4), North Korea (11+), Pakistan (65+), State of Palestine (6 [Hamas authorities, Gaza]), Saudi Arabia (130+), Singapore (8), Syria (unknown number), United Arab Emirates (1), Vietnam (unknown number), Yemen (2+)
- Europe (1 country): Belarus (2)
Precise numbers are not available for many countries, so the total number of executions is unknown. Other countries like Libya conducted extrajudicial executions.