Death Penalty Debate Revisited: International and Comparative Perspectives


Death penalty, sometimes referred to as capital penalty, is taking the life of a person through a judicial process due to an offense committed. Capital crimes such as murder and offenses related to drugs are the kind of crimes that result in death penalty. Death penalty has been removed from the constitution of some countries while others still practice it for punishing capital crimes. For instance, the United States has widely accepted death penalty with a good percentage of members of the Republican and Democratic Party showing support of it. On the contrary, Europe has abolished the death penalty but Belarus still practices it occasionally. In addition, most countries in Africa and Middle East countries continue to practice death penalty with China and Japan showing minimal opposition.

There have been controversial international perspectives on death penalty most of which revolve around the execution of innocent victims. Moreover, further investigations in such grave crimes have revealed that the slain victims were innocent long after they have been arraigned in court and undergone the lethal injection. Other opinionated international leaders and human rights bodies argue that countries that still practice death penalty do not respect the sanctity of life and the rights to live for the victims. The same countries that are confronted over this subject especially the United States, defend themselves by basing on the stipulations laid down on their constitution and the law.

On the other hand, comparative perspectives base its views through comparisons. In other words, it compares different countries, for instance the United States of America with other nations such as Mexico in order to observe the dynamism of capital punishment and point out its effect on the lives of people who are affected, its impact on the political plus judicial arena and so forth.

Therefore, there it is evidence that there exists a debate about this crucial subject on whether or not countries should continue practicing, its implications on the victims and the people performing it, human rights issues and the constitution. This is brought out more clearly, when different perspectives such as comparative and international views are brought in. Hence, this essay will focus on the international and comparative perspectives with the aim of bringing out the debate on death penalty.

International Perspectives

This section of the essay will focus on countries such as America, countries in Europe, and their frequency in the practice of death penalty with the aim of projecting the debate that have been going on for decades over this subject. In addition, the execution methods will also be discussed and views concerning this subject will be put across. The use of data will also be utilized based on reliable sources, such as Amnesty International in order to show how these countries have been consistent with death penalty.

Exceptions of Death Penalty

Opinions from across the world have indicated that vulnerable individuals should be exempted from death penalty. For instance, the Human Rights Commission in the United States has stated that citizens of a country that are under 18 years of age and individuals who are mentally retarded. Furthermore, the United States is dedicated to reduce capital crimes that would lead to execution so that it would, in the end, reduce the number of people that would be subjected to death penalty. America is one of the countries that has been questioned over carrying out death penalty on individuals less than 18 years of age and foreigners who were not well informed about their rights.

Time spent in death row

A typical inmate that has been convicted of committing a capital crime will be placed in a cell that is isolated for a period of nine years, with neither contact with human beings, visitors nor physical exercise. This, in itself, has been claimed by international groups for human rights, as torture and mistreatment both psychologically and physically. Furthermore, international courts have drawn up decisions stating that the long period spent in such conditions is not only cruel but also inhuman. It has also been observed that prisoners that fear that death row have managed to escape to Europe because the region no longer tolerates death penalty; and in their escape, they hope to escape the death penalty.

Execution methods

There are various methods that have been used to carry out executions, some of which have been considered to be inhuman and also unconstitutional. The type of method that existed in the past and is no longer utilized is hanging. Many countries have adopted methods that take a really shorter time, some even painless, so that the victim experiences limited but torturous minutes. Hanging was commonly used in earlier days but with the advancement security, the electrical chair was introduced on the basis that it was more humane. However, there have been victims who were placed on the electric chair and a pulse was still detected long after big electrical volts were passed forcing the people carrying out the execution to increase the volts; thereby, questioning on the humanness of this method. The Gas Chamber involves using a lethal gas which the victim is exposed to and then suffers the respiratory effects of its lethality and is pronounced dead after a few minutes. Another method that has been viewed to have some humanity is the lethal injection, commonly used in most of the states in America. While these methods seem to be effective in that they act in few minutes, countries that practice them have come under criticism internationally, in that, these methods seem not to respect life’s sanctity and that they are unconstitutional.

America and the death penalty

In today’s world, where execution has declined tremendously especially in the First World, the United States of America continues to show consistency and belief in utilization of death penalty as the ultimate punishment of capital crimes. Most conspicuously, despite the United States being the most industrialized and modern nation it still turns out to be the most distinctive country that sentence offenders with capital crime to death. Virginia is the state that leads in execution followed by Texas, Louisiana and Florida. In addition to that, the leaders of the developing countries have been known to be dictators who terrorize their followers or their opponents and thus use death penalty like a political weapon. On the other hand, the initiatives taken by Congress leaders of the United States and pressure imposed on politicians to have laid down procedures on tackling crime rate that was escalating are what have been thought to have given rise to the resurgence of death penalties. Consequently, the Senate of the United States has passed bills in the past that clearly favor the continuance of death penalty; for example the commonly supported House bill.

Passing of other bills such as the ones that favor the practicing of fairness during the passing of sentences have been proposed grounds of racial concerns. Of the people who were in support of the Fairness Bill, it was revealed that of the 144 executions that were carried out in 1976, it emerged that there was only one white person who was accused of killing a black man. However, the Washington Post commented on the House and Fairness bill terming them as extreme stating that if the federal system followed these bills, then it would be turned into disarray. Most of the United States congressmen together with the president have argued that in their continuation to practice death penalty, even up to today, America intends to eliminate the rising crime rates in the tough way.

Europe and other regions’ take on death penalty

Death penalty was completely done away with in Europe because, they argue, it has no position in countries that practice democracy. It is also stated that the execution methods are inhumane and unconstitutional. It is quite interesting to note that while America defends itself over why it still practices death penalty by referring to specific statements in its constitution that are in favor of death penalty, Europe on the other hand, argues that the whole process of death penalty is unconstitutional and does not respect human rights. This brings out an issue on the legality of a country’s constitution on whether or not countries that still encourage death penalty actually respect human rights. It is in this respect, therefore, that reference to the international law should be involved. This humanitarian law is commonly known to evidently stress on the importance of the respect of human rights and not violation.

It has also been a concern on the shift the death penalty has taken especially in countries such as China; in that, it has even been applied on victims that commit on a minor. In that regard, China has been under scrutiny especially internationally because it has been on the increase in execution of criminals with capital crimes most of which do not qualify to undergo a death penalty. Other views have also been put across that state that the use of the lethal injection is a cruel way and in fact unusual to subject capital victims to such conditions. In essence, this method of killing convicts is considered to be inhumane, especially by doctors. In California, for example, execution was at one time stopped when doctors declined to take part due to considerations of that type.

Amnesty International and the death penalty

The organization of Amnesty International has stated that the practice of death penalty is the demonstration of a complete rejection of the rights of human beings. It goes on to state that the act is premeditated and a violation of a right to live. The data presented by Amnesty International showing the number of deaths due to execution is unimaginable. It states that the number of people who underwent death penalty was 2390 in number and those who received a death sentence were 8864 in the year 2008. In its aim to abolish death penalty, Amnesty International has shown no support whatsoever, of death penalties even if the crime committed is grave enough to qualify as a capital crime and it has also distanced itself from the various types of execution methods that are normally employed by states that practice death penalty.

Comparative Perspectives

These are the kind of views that seek to compare the effect of death penalty in different countries; for instance, the effect on the judicial and political systems. It attempts to make a discovery and a description of how cultural and social values affect the views of citizens towards capital punishment and how these views determine whether or not a capital punishment should be carried out. It is almost always argued that democratic countries do not practice death penalty but this has turned out to be wrong since countries such as America and others in South East Asia are on the front line. Countries that still embrace capital punishment have been said to be uncivilized that is abolition of this act has been followed in many states around the world. However, there can be ways that such countries can carry out death penalties in ways that are more humane and still progress in civilization. Therefore, it not only depends on the kind of views that the government has, but a large part of the votes goes to the opinions and citizens of the country since they are a driving force of any country. A comparative perspective is important in that it demonstrates how death penalty is alive or how dead it is in countries around the world; how the images of the victims that undergo state killing that are released in the media are responded to by other states, the feedback received on capital punishment and its abolition.

Comparative views in Europe and America

The Europeans, as earlier mentioned, distanced itself from death penalty a long time ago but some countries in the region still practice it occasionally. Europe is more interested in the definition of its identity and its population that is why it abolished the death penalty. By eliminating capital crime it defines itself as a region that is civilized and making progress as compared to other nations that practice it and are lagging behind in civilization. It claims that since it is a democratic state, then that should give it the more urge to fight the gruesome way of killing convicts that commit capital crimes. In fact, convicts have, in the past, escaped to this part of the world, especially those from America, in the attempt to avoid the death row. In regard to that, since the Europeans have been known as anti-capital punishment, their identity has been associated with the stance of an abolitionist.

This subject has also revolved around the politics of Europe and most of its trade agreements especially those involving the global market. Groups against death penalty have also been formed and Europe has succeeded in using this as a condition of countries to be members of such groups in order to, for instance, do trade with them.

In line with that thought, Europe has been heard to criticize the Americans a great deal since they are still involved in capital punishment. On the other hand, America has demonstrated cultural differences and diverse regional interests which is the likely reason as to why it still is involved in death penalty. Furthermore, despite the European argument that a country shows civilization and progress if it abolishes death penalty, the United States has defied this argument, since it has shown progress economically, culturally and socially despite the fact that it shows interests in capital punishment.

Other countries

India is a country that also practices death penalty. The system of legality in India is known to be slow and inflexible. This has led to loss of the confidence they had on this country, especially its citizens. In addition to that, the slowness and inefficiency of India’s legal system has resulted in the increased rate of planned crimes and the intentional killings of criminals by shoot-outs done by the police which is definitely illegal since it is not on the hands of police officers to carry out murder but the court to determine whether the victims deserve to be killed. This has given rise to interesting results. It is quite ironic that India allows capital punishment but the whole process of effecting it is very slow and disorganized but, on the contrary, the shoot-outs done by the police, though illegal, are not only quick, but also efficient. This shows the effect of culture on the death penalty.

During the Soviet rule, there was a popular increase in death penalty. Therefore, public opinion thought that the citizens would grow to hate death penalty but this was not the case. This happened because when the Soviet Union pulled itself away from Kyrgyzstan, there followed long periods of lawlessness hence leading to the creation of an environment where unlawful killings took place such as the occurrence of death in odd places such as prisons. Such deaths escalated up to a point whereby they overtook the number of executions that were constituted by the government. Interestingly, the government of the Soviet Union disassociates itself from death penalty but in the real sense, it carries out other killings. It does this with the intention of gaining the favor of the international regions.

For countries such as Singapore, Japan and China, they have brought a seemingly interesting twist on the argument of abolishing death penalty to display civilization. In their take, instead of taking the abolition of the penalty of death as a sign for civilization, these countries have decided to stick to a viewpoint that is retationist especially in their social, economic and political arenas. In fact, these countries intend to create the view of the fact that death penalty can be a positive impact on the development of a state instead of a negative impact on society.

Therefore, it is interesting to note the effect of the culture of a country on its citizens and how powerful a tool it is in influencing the public opinion towards death penalty. Comparative perspectives will always differ country by country as long as these countries have different political ideologies and cultures.


In essence, the debate as to whether death penalty is a practice to engage in or not will continue to be an issue of concern. International perspectives claim that it is unconstitutional, shows a lack of respect to the sanctity of life, disrespect towards human rights and most conspicuously, countries like America use their constitution to defend itself by stating clearly, that it is constitutional to practice death penalty. Europe, on the other hand completely distanced itself from capital punishment and claimed that democratic countries should not encourage death penalty. Comparative perspectives, becomes more interesting in that it exposes how countries of the world have differing political ideologies and will either follow death penalty or not based on these ideologies or cultural norms. The execution methods have especially been among the controversial topics for discussion with Amnesty International putting its foot down by stating that no kind of method is right since they all deny human beings their rights. On the other hand, there are nations who argue that they can still utilize some methods as long as they are more humane. However, in all these debates, it is very crucial to remember that these arguments are based upon the lives of human beings who have rights. It is therefore important for world leaders to put this into consideration as they carry out death penalties and the countries that have eliminated capital punishment should, in effect, continue to respect the rights of their citizens.


Armstrong, Ken and Possley Maurice. “The Verdict: dishonor”. Chicago Tribune, 1999. Web. Gives insights on death penalty and human rights.

Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: An American History. United States of America: First Harvard University Press, 2003. Web. Gives a vivid view on the death penalty and how America continues to use it despite its westernization.

Barnes, Roger. “Myths can’t Hide The Truth: Death Penalty a Failure”. San Antonio Express News, 27 Feb. 2000. Web. The author shows the grave effects of death penalty and its failure as a way of punishment.

“Death Penalty In 2008- The Journey Towards Abolition Continues”. Abolish The Death Penalty. Amnesty International. Web. As an institution, it shows its opposition towards death penalty and the campaign to its abolishment.

Harris, Keith and Cheatwood Derral. The Geography of Execution: The Capital Punishment Quagmire in America. London: Rowman and Littlefield publishers, 1997. Web. Illustrates the effect of capital punishment and the world view of America.

Heiland, Hans-Gunther, Shelley Louise and Kato Hisao. Crime and Control In Comparative Perspectives. United States of America: Sage Publications, 1998. Web. Authors give informed views about comparative perspectives in relation to crime around the world.

Sacat, Austin. When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition. New York: Princeton University Press, 2001. Essays on the vengeance of politics, the legal state killing process and culture in relation to capital punishment.

Sarat, Austin and Christian Boulanger. The Cultural Role of punishment: Comparative Perspectives. California: Stanford University Press, 2005. Web. Authors show the strong effect of culture on the view people have towards death penalty.

Scabas, William. The Death Penalty as a Cruel Treatment and Torture. United States of America: Northeastern University Press, 1996. Web. The author is clearly against capital punishment and the tone in this book indicates that death penalty should be abolished.

Pojman, Louis, and Jeffrey Reiman. The Death Penalty: For and Against. London: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1998. Philosophers who give expositions and rebuttals of each side.

Van den Haag, Earnest and Conrad John. The Death Penalty: A Debate. United States of America: Harvard University Press, 1983. Web. Brings out the debate clearly by giving arguments of different political leaders and human rights groups.

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