Should there be an end to the death penalty?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
It is official: the Catholic Church now considers the use of capital punishment "inadmissible" in all circumstances. This was already the view of Pope Francis, but the pontiff has made it official by amending the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a 1992 document penned by Pope John Paul II which outlines the major tenets of the faith.
The Catechism includes the Church's official stance on ethical questions like the death penalty. The original document said that the use of capital punishment was permissible in some circumstances as “an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes”. Under Pope Francis' changes, the death penalty is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” which must not be used in any circumstances.
The Catholic Church will now work towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide. They, however, have an extremely tough task on their hands. Amnesty International recorded at least 993 executions in 23 countries last year. Most of the executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan - in that order.
While China remains as the world's top executioner, it is difficult to get a true number from the secretive country - their death penalty data is classified as a state secret. The global figure of at least 993 executions excludes the thousands of executions believe to have been carried out in China. There are 55 crimes that carry the death penalty in the country, from murder, treason and armed rebellion to bribery and smuggling. Thirteen other crimes, such as VAT fraud, smuggling relics and credit fraud, were only recently removed as capital offences, the BBC reports.
At least 21,919 people were known to be on death row at the end of 2017, with over 2,500 being sentenced to death in that year.
There are 53 countries that still have the death penalty, including India, Jamaica, and the United States. Every European country has abolished it, with one exception: Belarus. According to the Daily Telegraph, Belarus - often dubbed as 'Europe's last dictatorship' - executed two people in 2017, and more than 200 since 1990. They are the last European country sine 1997 to continue capital punishment.
The most recent countries to abolish the death penalty include the West African nation Burkina Faso this year, Guinea in 2017, Benin in 2016, and Madagascar in 2015.
Amnesty International calls the death penalty an "ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment", and calls for it to be abolished in all circumstances. "The death penalty," they argue, "is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it." The human rights organisation argues that capital punishment is irreversible and mistakes can happen, it does not deter crime, it is often used in a skewed judiciary system, it is discriminatory and it can be used as a political tool.
Hundreds, potentially thousands, of people are executed every year. The fight to abolish the death penalty is an old one that still rages on. The Catholic Church will not support capital punishment under any circumstances, and they are hoping others will follow suit.