Today is the 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty, an annual October 10 event created by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty of which Amnesty International is a founding member. Since that first World Day on Oct. 10, 2003, executions are on the wane both here in the U.S. and around the world.
Here are 10 reasons to celebrate 10 years of progress this World Day:
1. 97 Countries Have Abolished the Death Penalty
At the end of 2003, 80 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. The number now stands at 97. Overall, more than two-thirds (140) of the world’s countries are now abolitionist in law or practice.
2. US Death Sentences at All-Time Low
Death sentences in the U.S. dropped to 78 in 2011, representing the lowest figure since the 1970s. Executions in the US have dropped by a third, and death sentences almost by half, in the last decade.
3. Five More US States Outlaw Death Penalty
Since 2003, five U.S. states – Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York – have abolished the death penalty in the past ten years. Now 17 states are abolitionist in law. And in less than a month, California will be voting on replacing its death penalty.
4. Less Countries in Africa & Middle East Executing
The number of countries executing and passing death sentences in the Middle East and North Africa has decreased. Africa is the continent with the highest number of abolitions over the past decade.
5. Mass Commutations & Pardons
There were mass commutations or pardons in several countries during the last ten years. All death sentences were commuted in the Philippines, Ghana, Tanzania, Cuba, Myanmar, and Sierra Leone.
6. No More Juvenile Executions in US
No juvenile offender has been executed in the U.S. since 2003. In March 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for people under 18 at the time of the crime was “cruel and unusual punishment”. The Roper v. Simmons decision spared the lives of over 70 child offenders on U.S. death rows.
7. Declines for Two Big Executioners
Internationally, the number of countries known to have carried out executions has declined. And a significant decrease in the implementing of death sentences has been recorded in countries with previously high execution rates such as Egypt and Singapore. Singapore has in fact announce a moratorium on executions.
8. UN Passes 3 Resolutions for Global Moratorium
The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has adopted three resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. The adoption of these resolutions has put abolition squarely on the global agenda.
9. Power of the People
Several times in recent years widespread and very vocal opposition to the death penalty has emerged around executions in cases that showed the inherent cruelty and failure of the death penalty. In Iran, Gambia, and the USA, executions have provoked intense regional and international public opposition and protests.
10. Victims’ Families Are Speaking Out
Family members of murder victims who actively oppose the death penalty have become a stronger voice. For example, the family of Chong Hoon Mah, a South Korean immigrant to the U.S. who was shot and killed by Johnnie Baston in 1994 in Ohio, opposed the death penalty in his case because of their belief that it was incompatible with their respect for human life. In another U.S. case, Rais Bhuiyan, who survived being shot by Mark Stroman in 2001 in one of a series of racist violent crimes committed in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, campaigned against Stroman’s execution in Texas. More recently, the widow of a man killed by Terrance Williams in Pennsylvania continues to oppose the execution of her husband’s killer.
Public opinion on the death penalty has shifted dramatically over the last ten years, as more voices, like victim’s family members, have come out against it.
The trends are clear. Abolition is coming.