Death Penalty Worldwide (DPW) was founded in April 2011 by Professor Sandra Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell University Law School, in partnership with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Worldwide aims to bridge critical gaps in research and advocacy around the death penalty. First, it provides comprehensive, transparent data regarding death penalty laws and practices in the 87 countries and territories that retain capital punishment. Second, it publishes reports and manuals on issues of practical relevance to defense lawyers, governments, courts and organizations grappling with questions relating to the application of the death penalty, particularly in the global south. Third, it engages in targeted advocacy focusing on the implementation of international fair trial standards and the rights of those who come into conflict with the law, including juveniles, women, and individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses.
The database is the centerpiece of the Death Penalty Worldwide project, and was designed to meet the needs of judges, policymakers, scholars, lawyers, journalists, and human rights advocates for comprehensive information regarding the application of the death penalty around the world. We believe that access to information is vital to inform policy decisions and legal analysis relating to capital punishment. Transparency is paramount in the documentation of human rights violations and in the development of strategies to implement international norms relating to the death penalty. Access to information is also critical to determine what the law is, particularly when it comes to customary international law. Because the emergence of universal human rights norms under customary international law is predicated on trends in state practice, understanding how the majority of states restrict capital punishment is critical to the development of new standards and the elaboration of global abolition strategies. In the past, gathering this kind of comparative information—for instance, in how many countries the mandatory death penalty has been ruled contrary to fair trial guarantees—required extensive and painstaking research. The database’s advanced search capabilities, which are unique among human rights databases, allow users to combine sixty-five different variables and can provide answers in a matter of seconds.
The database provides easy access to data regarding the practices and laws of individual countries, and permits users to search across jurisdictions to compare state practice in a wide variety of areas. Locating reliable data on many issues relating to the death penalty is notoriously difficult—particularly for qualitative questions, such as the competence of capital defense counsel. Even more prosaic questions, such as whether national courts have issued significant decisions relating to the application of the death penalty, are not easy to answer in countries that rarely publish judicial decisions. For those countries that treat information regarding the death penalty as a state secret, it is particularly challenging to find objective and reliable sources regarding death row demographics and execution practices. When a definitive conclusion cannot be reached, our research sets out the available information and offers a cautious, informed assessment of state practice. To ensure that database users can gauge the accuracy of our information, we provide sources for each fact cited in the database.
Death Penalty Worldwide also aims to address issues that have received scant attention from other organizations and scholars. For example, in June 2013, DPW published the first international best practices manual for capital defense lawyers. Lawyers from Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, Guinea, Belgium, France, Portugal and the United States contributed to the manual, which draws from international human rights law, national jurisprudence, and the practical experience of defense attorneys around the world. Lawyers in the global south often receive no training in the specialized field of capital defense. Consequently, their clients are often deprived of their fair trial rights, including their right to an effective defense. The risk of wrongful conviction also rises dramatically when prisoners are represented by poorly trained and inadequately prepared lawyers. Our manual provides practical guidance for all stages of a capital case, including pretrial detention, investigation of mitigating evidence, trial strategy, appeals, and petitions to international human rights bodies. The manual is available on our website in English, French and Chinese here: http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/dpw-publications.cfm.
Finally, Death Penalty Worldwide engages in advocacy in targeted countries with local partners, focusing on the implementation of international human rights norms such as the right to individualized sentencing, the need for a competent defense, and the bar on the execution of juvenile offenders and individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities. In collaboration with Cornell Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, DPW has been engaged for several years in a project focused on the rights of prisoners given mandatory death sentences in Malawi. Through sustained engagement over a period of six years, DPW was able to train lawyers, paralegals, judges, mental health workers, and prison staff about the role of mitigating evidence, the need to conduct background investigations before sentencing proceedings, and the importance of assessing the mental health of prisoners facing the death penalty. DPW helped build a local coalition that pressed for resentencing hearings for approximately 175 prisoners, resulting in the immediate release (as of May 2015) of 15 prisoners who had formerly been sentenced to death, and the imposition of reduced sentences for an additional 9 prisoners. More hearings are scheduled for the remainder of 2015.
Sandra Babcock is Faculty Director and founder of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. As a Clinical Professor and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell University Law School, she specializes in international human rights litigation, access to justice, death penalty defense, international gender rights, and the application of international law in US courts. With her clinic students, she has spent several years working on access to justice for prisoners in Malawi, where their advocacy has led to the release of 165 prisoners since 2007. She is also counsel to the Government of Mexico in the cases of Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in the United States, and was Mexico’s counsel before the International Court of Justice in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals. For her work, she was awarded the Aguila Azteca, the highest honor bestowed by the government of Mexico upon citizens of foreign countries, in 2003. Professor Babcock has argued cases before the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Courts of California, Texas, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Mexico.
John Blume is the Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project and Professor at Cornell Law School. He is one of the foremost death penalty practitioners in the United States, with particular expertise on the application of the death penalty to individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses. Internationally, he has been involved for the past four years in several projects related to improving the quality of capital defense in China. The first capital punishment clinic in China, launched by Professor Hongyao Wu of China University of Political Science and Law in 2010, is the result of an ongoing collaboration with Professor Blume. Each year, the Cornell Death Penalty Project hosts a Chinese visiting scholar who researches capital punishment, and Professor Blume has given a number of presentations regarding the current status and use of the death penalty in China.
Sheri Lynn Johnson is an expert on the interface of race and issues in criminal procedure, and the Assistant Director of the Cornell Death Penalty project, an initiative to foster empirical scholarship on the death penalty, which offers students an opportunity to work with practitioners on death penalty cases, and to provide information and assistance for death penalty lawyers. After her graduation from Yale Law School in 1979, Professor Johnson worked for a year in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the New York Legal Aid Society, and then joined the Cornell Law School Faculty in 1981. Professor Johnson co-founded the Cornell Death Penalty Project in 1993. She currently teaches constitutional and criminal law, and supervises the post-conviction litigation and capital trial clinics.
Keir M. Weyble is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Death Penalty Litigation at Cornell Law School. Before coming to Cornell, he spent twelve years as a practicing attorney based in South Carolina, where he concentrated on the litigation of capital cases in state and federal courts. He has served as counsel, co-counsel, or as a consultant at the trial, appellate, and collateral review stages in dozens of capital cases across the country, from state trial court proceedings to merits stage litigation in the Supreme Court of the United States. He is also a nationally recognized expert on federal habeas corpus law and practice, a member of the Habeas Assistance and Training Counsel Project, co-author (with John Blume) of the Federal Habeas Corpus Update, and a frequent faculty member and presenter at professional training programs related to capital cases and post-conviction practice. At Cornell Law, he teaches Trial Advocacy, seminars on Advanced Criminal Procedure: Post-Conviction Remedies and Capital Punishment Law, and co-teaches the Capital Clinics, the Juvenile Justice Clinic, and the Innocence Clinic.
Delphine Lourtau is the Executive Director of the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, where she oversees and coordinates the Center’s research and advocacy projects. Prior to joining the Center, she was Research Director for the Death Penalty Worldwide project, where she helped develop a groundbreaking database analyzing death penalty through the lens of international human rights law. She has lectured widely on international law and the death penalty and has been consulted by numerous media outlets for her expertise regarding the practical application of the death penalty around the world. Her concern for fundamental rights in the criminal justice process was cemented by early experiences at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and capital criminal defense work. She has also practiced as a civil rights lawyer in the United States, representing victims of police misconduct in the war on drugs at the Chicago firm of Loevy & Loevy. Following her graduation from McGill University in Montreal with degrees in common law and civil law, she clerked for Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada and completed an LLM at New York University School of Law, where she was a Hauser Scholar. She also holds a Masters degree from the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris.
Sharon Pia Hickey is the Research and Advocacy Director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. Sharon oversees Center research, including maintaining the Death Penalty Worldwide database. She also spearheads the organization of the Center’s Makwanyane Institute. Prior to joining the Center, Sharon supervised and conducted international human rights advocacy and research as Clinical Teaching Fellow with Cornell Law School’s Gender Justice Clinic. She worked on various projects including research on the causes and consequences of women’s imprisonment in Jamaica, an Inter-American Commission petition on sexual violence in the U.S. Military, and a stakeholder workshop on preventing sexual violence against Kenyan schoolchildren. After graduating from the National University of Ireland Maynooth, where she was executive editor of its law review, Sharon worked with Women for Election, supporting political training programs for women. She earned an LL.M. from Columbia Law School, where she served as an editor on the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Sharon has also worked in the Law Library of Congress, as part of the Washington Ireland Program, and in the Women and Public Policy Program of the Harvard Kennedy School. In 2017, Sharon was honored by IUSA and the U.S. Embassy in Ireland with the Emerging Leader Award.
Zohra Ahmed is a Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. Prior to joining the Center, she was a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, where she represented individuals charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanors to homicides. While a public defender, she organized efforts to hold prosecutors accountable, most recently through Court Watch NYC, a community-led program to monitor criminal court proceedings. In law school, she trained at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU, where she participated in litigation challenging US drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen. She has also participated in and led human rights investigations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel and Bolivia. She speaks French and Urdu, and is conversational in Mandarin. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Cambridge, and Fordham University. She is licensed to practice law in the state of New York.
Randi Kepecs joined the Center on Death Penalty Worldwide with a background in architectural preservation, fundraising and event planning, and worked as a librarian. She provides administrative support for the many projects and activities of the Center. Prior to arriving in Ithaca in 1991, she lived in London, England. Randi has a B.A. in Urban Planning from New York University, and a Master of Library and Information Science from University of Pittsburgh. She is involved in the community as a volunteer with the Friends of the Library, a historic preservationist with the Cayuga Heights History Project, and is on the Board of Directors of Historic Ithaca.
Joon Lee is a Research Associate at the Cornell Center for the Death Penalty Worldwide. She earned a JD from Cornell Law School in May 2019 with concentration on public interest law. At Cornell, Joon participated in the International Human Rights Clinic, working on post-conviction litigation of death penalty case in Tanzania and human rights reporting in the Occupied Golan. She also participated in criminal defense litigation of anti-corporate protesters as a member of the Protest and Civil Disobedience Defense Practicum. Joon worked as an intern at Landesa, an organization that focuses on international land rights for farmers and farmworkers, and at Yale Law School with their Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic. Finally, Joon did a co-externship with both Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Southern African Institute for Policy and Research in South Africa and in Zambia, assisting with land displacement cases and regulation of extractive industries. She has received the Freeman Award for Civil-Human Rights in 2019. Joon graduated from New York University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in Media, Culture, and Communication and a minor in Anthropology.
Diana Suciu is a Legal Researcher for the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. She holds a Master of Laws degree from Cornell Law School, and a Bachelor of Laws degree from King’s College London. At Cornell, she participated in the post-conviction litigation of death penalty cases in the United States, Malawi, and Tanzania with the International Human Rights Clinic. She also completed an independent writing project on consular rights violations of foreign nationals facing the death penalty worldwide, under the supervision of Professor Sandra Babcock. Prior to Cornell, Diana was an intern at the European Parliament, where she conducted research into strategies to combat domestic violence against women in the European Union. She was also an intern at the Romanian Directorate for Organized Crime and Terrorism, working on human trafficking cases, and served as the president of King’s Think Tank, the largest student think tank in Europe.
Gathering reliable data on the laws and practices of 87 countries and territories is no small challenge. To meet this challenge, we have relied on a talented and well-trained team who collectively devoted thousands of hours to this project, most on a volunteer basis. All of them deserve enormous credit for the labor-intensive and meticulous research they conducted. Our partners at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have been our most steadfast supporters over the years, and we are particularly grateful to Aurélie Plaçais, Maria Donatelli, and Priscilla Petit for their critical role in transforming our ideas into reality.
Among the researchers who have made the greatest contributions to the Death Penalty Worldwide database, Safa Ansari Bayegan, Ronit Arie, Brook Miscoski, and Sophie Colmant deserve special mention. We also would like to recognize and thank the following individuals for their commitment to this project: Mahmoud Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Dr. Nizam Assaf, Vanessa Arroyo Boy, Jennifer Bailey, Sophia Bairaktaris, Jeanne Bishop, Muneeb Bokhari, John Cacharani, Emile Carreau, Guillaume Colin, Katia Colin, Yvette Diaz, Maria Donatelli, Jessica Dwinell, Jeff Engstrom, Penelope Faulkner, Fatima Ferrer, Delia Flores, Richard Fielding, Abigail Flynn, Allison Freedman, Maribeth Gainard, Danielle Goldman, Shin Hahn, Saleem Halteh, Juliet Han, Melissa Hindman, Inês Horta Pinto, Tomas Hubert, Anna Jackson, Apoorvaa C. Joshi, Rachel Katzman, Catrina Kim, Akhila Kolisetty, Joan Kyomugisha, Nikki (Soeun) Lee, Hsin-Yi Lin, Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Tianyin (Nunu) Luo, Jade Martin, Liliana Martin, Maria Martinez, Nicolas Martinez, DeLaine Mayer, Lisa Mazzone, Kristin McCaffrey, Sathyanandh Mohan, Shimelis Mulugeta, Sultana Noon, Henri Ariston Nzedom, Vanessa Oh, Shubra Ohri, Alexis Ortiz, Katie Pelech, Nicolas Perron, Gokila Pillai, Aurelie Placais, Eric Prokosch,Virginia Richardson, Ricardo Sanchez, Heather Scheiwe, Alison Shah, Kai Sheffield, Sophie Abu Soboh, Maiko Tagusari, Julie Vautard, Vamika Venkatesan, Mark Warren, and Marina Ziemian.
This project would not have been possible without the financial backing of The Atlantic Philanthropies, the European Union, and the Proteus Action League. We are very grateful for their support.
Last updated on April 24, 2018