Is the death penalty legal? Every country where capital punishment still exists

Schellenberg: Expert on upholding of death penalty in China

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Two Britons and a Moroccan soldier now face the death penalty after taking up arms for Ukraine, according to Russian media reports. The British soldiers, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner were detained in April after enlisting with the Ukrainian armed forces. They and their Moroccan-born colleague Brahim Saadoun were subject to a so-called trial that lasted just three days, and they plan to appeal.

In a statement, Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary, condemned the judgement and branded it a “sham” with “absolutely no legitimacy”.

Tory minister Robert Jenrick branded it a “reminder of the depravity of Putin’s regime”.

The UK Government has pledged to help the soldiers, who are protected under the Geneva Convention, return home.

The ordeal has revealed a significant flaw in the death penalty policy and may lead people to wonder where the dated practice still exists.


The DPR decision to carry out the death penalty on occupied Ukrainian territory would contravene the country’s national law, as capital punishment is no longer legal in Ukraine.

The death penalty is technically legal in Russia, but a moratorium established by ex-President Boris Yeltsin in 1996 has prevented the state from employing it, with the act last renewed in 2009.

The last state-sanctioned execution was carried out on August 2, 1996, when authorities reportedly killed convicted serial murderer and rapist Sergey Golovkin via firing squad.

The only other European country that still uses the death penalty is Belarus, which last executed a convicted criminal in 2021.


Capital punishment is a largely un-African practice and primarily a side-effect of the continents’ centuries of colonial occupation.

Most countries – 22 in total – have enacted full or partial bans, and it is rarely used in the remaining 23 where it is active.

Only 10 African countries still employ the death penalty regularly as of 2020.

They include:

  • Nigeria
  • Botswana
  • Somalia
  • Uganda
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Ethiopia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Libya

The Middle East

The death penalty becomes more popular as people look east from Africa.

Most of the region’s advanced societies still use capital punishment on convicted criminals.

Middle-Eastern countries where the death penalty is still active include:

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Yemen

Some also employ other gruesome physical punishments, and Saudi Arabia once crucified its criminals.


Capital punishment still exists in a clutch of Asian countries, primarily those in the Asia-Pacific region.

Amnesty International states that only six have continued to carry out regular executions.

The following nations subjected criminals to the death penalty in 2020:

  • Bangladesh
  • China
  • India
  • North Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Viet Nam
  • Singapore

The US

Death penalty policy is a devolved matter in the US that falls to states where legislators are free to permit or abolish the practice.

The majority – 27 – have decided to abolish capital punishment, while 23 recognise it as a legal penalty.

Those still using the death penalty include:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania

Central and South America and the Caribbean

South America is one of the few continents that has almost universally abolished capital punishment.

The penalty remains in Belize and Guyana but has not seen use since the 20th century in 1985 and 1997, respectively.

Brazil, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala and Chile have partially abolished the death penalty, as it is only legal in specific, extreme circumstances like war crimes.

In the Caribbean, the death penalty is a widely supported policy that exists in most nations, aside from the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

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