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Opinion

Opinion: The death penalty is past its kill-by date

The number of countries that no longer apply the death penalty continues to grow. Yet the global execution count is also on the rise. That is primarily the fault of four countries, DW's Matthias von Hein writes.

The most fundamental human right - inalienable and also anchored in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights - is the right to live. This right, of course, is often violated by conflict, terrorism and crime, and it is

often violated by the law.

Last year, 25 states

Pope Francis calls for year without executions

legally executed at least 1,634 human beings.

Those numbers,

from Amnesty International,

represent a setback in the global fight to abolish the death penalty. In 2015 the number of executions was higher than it had been at any time in the previous quarter century. And, sadly, one must assume that a great many more people lost their lives at the hands of executioners. Many countries simply refuse to release such data, treating executions like state secrets. Forty-six offenses are punishable by death in China, which does not let on how many people are killed there annually, though the total is likely more than in the rest of the world combined.

Hein

DW's Matthias von Hein

Ninety percent of the executions recorded in Amnesty's numbers are carried out in

Iran,

Saudi Arabia and

Pakistan.

And it's not just an antiquated Old Testament principle like "an eye for an eye" that will get you killed. Adultery, blasphemy and homosexuality have all been used to justify the death penalty in such places. And, if that were not bad enough, one cannot even begin to speak of fairness in the judicial proceedings that lead to executions.

Other nonviolent offenses, such as drug dealing or smuggling, are also punished by death on a massive level. For instance, two-thirds of the thousand or so executions carried out in Iran last year were related to drug offenses. But such measures have done little to stem the flow of drugs into the country. That favored argument of death penalty supporters - that executions have a deterrent effect - simply doesn't hold true.

EU push fails

One of the biggest disappointments in the run-up to the UN General Assembly's special session on the world drug problem in New York this month is that the European Union was unable to push through its calls for abolishing the death penalty for such crimes. Drafts of the conference's closing document contain no references to that. China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Egypt and others maintain their position that the death penalty is a judiciary issue for individual sovereign states and not a topic for drug conferences.

Belarus clings to the death penalty in Europe. The United States, which claims political and moral superiority over many other nations, executed one inmate every two weeks last year on average. The death penalty has its roots in eras in which people were concerned with revenge, not justice. It is senseless, gruesome and degrading; executions lead to brutal societies.

The majority of countries around the world have realized that state-sanctioned killing is not the answer to murder or other crimes: A total of 102 states have completely abolished the death penalty. Four did so just last year. These countries show that justice and criminal law have no need for executioners.

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