The number of member states of the United Nations opposed to the death penalty has seen an “encouraging growth”, according to a report by the International Bar Association (IBA).
Published earlier this year and promoted by the IBA for today's World Day Against the Death Penalty (10 October 2016), the report, Forced to Kill: The Mandatory Death Penalty and its Incompatibility with Fair Trial Standards, is written by London barrister Sadakat Kadri and produced in conjunction with the Geneva Academy, which researches in the fields of armed conflict and protection of human rights.
Among its key findings, executions took place in 25 countries in 2015, down from 42 in 1995. A maximum of 37 countries mandate the death penalty today, and fewer actually carry out the punishment in practice.
More than half of the world's states have formally abolished the death penalty entirely, and two thirds have not executed anyone for at least a decade.
“In the United States, the last bastion of capital punishment in the West, criminals were executed in just six states during 2015, down one from the year before, and there were fewer new death sentences imposed during that year than at any time since 1973.”
However, of at least 29 countries that retain the mandatory death penalty for specific offences, these are especially likely be influenced by the legacy of the British Empire, where reforms have been "inconsistent and piecemeal", or Islamic jurisprudence. Support for the death penalty is also disproportionately common in countries associated with Islam. When the 193-strong UN General Assembly last voted in 2014 for a moratorium on its use, almost half of those opposed (16 out of 38) had political and legal systems that expressly claimed to be “Islamic” or populations that were primarily Muslim.
But of the world's roughly 50 Muslim-majority states, 13 actually carried out executions in 2013 and 2014, many are abolitionist and at least 24 have not executed anyone for at least 10 years. The report states that there are “compatibilities” between international and Islamic law principles against taking life.
It also finds that countries which have resisted the downward trend against the moratorium on the death penalty are often characterised by political insecurity and have used the death penalty as a means to tackle internal opposition and extremist attacks. Those that have resisted the trend "most dramatically" include Egypt, Nigeria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The report seeks the suspension or abolition of laws imposing the mandatory death penalty, and urges all states to acknowledge and publicise the ways in which the mandatory death penalty contravenes international law.