More than 70% of the world’s countries are considered to have abolished the death penalty. The nearly 30% of countries retaining the death penalty and carrying out executions are found primarily in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia-Pacific, and some states in the United States. Where the death penalty continues to be authorized, legislators must determine the crimes for which the penalty may be applied and the method by which the execution will occur. International law stipulates that a death sentence should be imposed for only the most serious crimes, but the term “serious” is not defined. As a result, the death penalty is not only applied for the crime of murder (generally considered an example of “most serious”), but also for other crimes against the person (e.g., rape, kidnapping), crimes against the state (e.g., treason, espionage, terrorism), offenses against the community (e.g., drug-trafficking), offenses against property (e.g., robbery, arson, and burglary), and crimes against religion (e.g., blasphemy or apostasy, and offenses against sexual morality). After conviction, the method of executing those convicted may be by hanging (currently the most widely authorized and frequently used method), shooting, beheading, stoning, lethal injection, or electrocution.
Where the death penalty is retained, arguments favoring its use are likely to focus on issues of deterrence, retribution, and religious doctrine. Where it has been abolished, the arguments have highlighted concerns of questionable fairness in its application, the possibility of executing an innocent person, public opinion, and how capital punishment violates human rights. This last point that the death penalty violates human rights is the predominate view under international law and provides the primary theme explaining the world trend toward abolition.