Death penalty in international law

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, recognizes each person’s right to life. It categorically states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5). In Amnesty International’s view, the death penalty violates these rights.

The community of states has adopted four international treaties specifically providing for the abolition of the death penalty. Through the years, several UN bodies discussed and adopted measures to support the call for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

In December 2007 and 2008 the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted resolutions 62/149 and 63/168, calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Since then, other regional bodies or civil society coalitions adopted resolutions and declarations advocating for a moratorium on executions as a step towards global abolition of the death penalty.

These resolutions are not legally binding on governments, but represent important milestones for the abolitionist movement and constitute a continued progress towards the total exclusion of capital punishment from International Law.

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International standards on the death penalty
Extracts from international instruments and other authoritative statements relevant to the abolition of the death penalty, arranged by subject.

Ratification of international treaties
The community of nations has adopted four international treaties providing for the abolition of the death penalty. One is of worldwide scope; the other three are regional. Learn about the treaties and the status of their ratifications.

Moratorium on executions now: 2010 UNGA resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty
The 65th session of the UNGA will consider a third resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in late 2010.

United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/149 and 63/168 on the application of the death penalty
In 2007 and 2008 the United Nations General Assembly adopted two resolutions endorsing the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

Regional intergovernmental organizations and civil society: instruments to endorse a global moratorium on executions
Following the adoption of these resolutions, regional bodies and civil society coalitions expressed their support for a global moratorium on executions and asked governments for their implementation