Capital punishment has been practiced in virtually every society, excluding those with state religious proscriptions against it. It is a matter of active controversy in various states, and positions can vary within a single political ideology or cultural region. A major exception is in Europe, where Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the practice.Today, most countries are considered by Amnesty International as abolitionists, which allowed a vote on a resolution to the UN to promote the abolition of the death penalty. But more than 60% of the worldwide population live in countries where executions take place in so far as the four most populous countries in the world (such as People's Republic of China, India, United States andIndonesia) apply the death penalty.
Execution of criminals and political opponents has been used by nearly all societies—both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. In most places that practice capital punishment it is reserved for murder, espionage, treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries sexual crimes, such as rape, adultery, incest and sodomy, carry the death penalty,as do religious crimes such as apostasy in Islamic nations (the formal renunciation of the State religion). In many countries that use the death penalty, drug trafficking is also a capital offense. In China, human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are punished by the death penalty. In militaries around the world courts-martial have imposed death sentences for offenses such as cowardice,desertion, insubordination, and mutiny.
The use of formal execution extends to the beginning of recorded history. Most historical records and various primitive tribal practices indicate that the death penalty was a part of their justice system. Communal punishment for wrongdoing generally included compensation by the wrongdoer, corporal punishment, shunning, banishment and execution. Within asmall community, crimes were rare and murder was almost always a crime of passion. Moreover, most would hesitate to inflict death on a member of the community. For this reason, execution and even banishment were extremely rare. Usually, compensation and shunning were enough as a form of justice.
However, these were viewed as not effective responses to crimescommitted by outsiders. Consequently, even small crimes committed by outsiders were considered to be an assault on the community and were severely punished. The methods varied from beating and enslavement to executions. However, the response to crime committed by neighbouring tribes or communities included formal apology, compensation or blood feuds.
A blood feud or vendettaoccurs when arbitration between families or tribes fails or an arbitration system is non-existent. This form of justice was common before the emergence of an arbitration system based on state or organised religion. It may result from crime, land disputes or a code of honour. "Acts of retaliation underscore the ability of the social collective to defend itself and demonstrate to enemies (as well aspotential allies) that injury to property, rights, or the person will not go unpunished." However, in practice, it is often difficult to distinguish between a war of vendetta and one of conquest.
Severe historical penalties include breaking wheel, boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, disembowelment, crucifixion, impalement, crushing (including crushing by elephant), stoning, execution by...