The death penalty was once a primary method of punishment in many countries across the world. It was administered to those convicted of a range of crimes, from cutting down trees in public places and cattle theft, to murder and treason, and viewed as a deterrent by the ruling governments. However, views on the punishment began to change as a new age of the intellectual elite arose. Figureheads such as Charles Dickens and Karl Marx condemned the use of the death penalty, claiming that public executions created a barbaric and uncivilised carnival atmosphere.
As opposed to acting as a deterrent, figures show that crime rates actually rose in the places where public executions were held, and debates regarding the death penalty spread across the world. At the same time, penitentiaries were being built, as an alternative solution to execution and transportation, and it was thought that they would also make ideal locations for carrying out the death penalty. This way, public executions would cease to exist, therefore quashing the barbaric party-like atmosphere and high crime rates. For many years, this satisfied those opposed to the death penalty, and executions behind prison walls were carried out across the world.
The 20th century saw much violence and death around the world, and executions had become an everyday part of life. Tens of millions of people were killed during the wars of the century, including the Khmer Rouge violation of Cambodia, Hitler’s attempt to rid Europe of Jewish citizens, the Turkish attack on the Armenians and the bloody massacre of the Tutsi in Rwanda. During these wars, executions were a standard form of punishment, and a method of maintaining military discipline. A total of 158,000 soldiers were executed in the Soviet Union, and others have been killed for absence without leave, cowardice, insubordination and theft. Death by firing squad became a quick and relatively cheap method of execution during this time.
Execution was also used during these wars as a means of political oppression. Those who spoke out against their government’s fascist or communist regimes were quickly terminated, usually by gun shot. Studies show that over a million Soviet citizens were executed by their ruling government during 1937-38. The Nazi party executed anyone who opposed their regime, or threatened it in any way, which resulted in the deaths of at least half a million of their own citizens.
The end of World War II brought about the Nuremberg trials, where executions were not only expected, but demanded. The Nazi party were responsible for the deaths of around 11 million people around Europe, wiping out generations of citizens, and people needed retribution. However, after the war trials and executions were over, vast debates began regarding the necessity of the death penalty. An increasing emphasis was being placed of natural and human rights, and civil organisations called for the abolition of the death penalty.
The wave of reformation swept across the world, and many countries abolished capital punishment. The top ten list of countries who still actively use the death penalty are as follows:
|Country||Executions in 2013||Executions between 2007-13|
|China||Unknown. Presumed thousands||Unknown. Presumed thousands|
Source: Amnesty International
For a complete list of all countries using the death penalty, and their statistics, please click HERE.