End The Death Penalty Update

Malawi – the death penalty does not deter violent crime

A collaboration with Cornell Law School Centre on the Death Penalty Worldwide and the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI), Malawi. Read the report here

Over the years, the myth that the death penalty could work as a measure to deter violent crime has persisted, despite a lack of evidence to support it. Most recently, this thinking has again gained traction in light of the horrendous crimes perpetrated against communities with albinism across Eastern and Southern Africa.

Here, we summarise the existing data on deterrence, which shows that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent, and outlines the alternative measures and recommendations that those working on the protection and non-discrimination of people with albinism have put forward.

There are three main reasons that the death penalty should not be considered as a measure to combat violence against people with albinism: 

  1. Data globally does not show that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on violent crime & often crime rates have reduced over time in abolitionist countries.
  2. Countries that have abolished the death penalty have done so because it fundamentally violates notions of human dignity and society’s own regard for human life.
  3. Recommendations from the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa do not include the application of the death penalty and instead propose expert alternative policies to combat violence.


1. Data globally does not show that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on violent crime & often crime rates have reduced over time in abolitionist countries 

The US remains one of the countries, which still widely applies the death penalty and has consistently been among the countries to execute the most people over the past years,i despite a growing consensus against the application of the death penalty in the various individual states of the US.

The US National Research Council was commissioned to assess whether available evidence scientifically supports the notion that the death penalty has an effect on homicide rates.ii The committee examined decades of data and found no information to support the idea that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on violent crimes. Further, they found that studies suggesting that the death penalty does have a deterrent effect are based on studies that use incomplete or implausible models or assumptions that are not credible. iii

Additionally, we see that in many countries, crime rates have reduced in the years following the abolition of the death penalty. In the US, the Southern States, which account for 80% of executions, have the highest murder rate, while the Northeast has the lowest murder rate and accounts for less than 1% of executions.iv In Canada, the murder rate had fallen by 44% in the 27 years following abolition of the death penalty in the country.v

Countries that reintroduce the death penalty experience the same lack of effect. A senior official in the Philippines stated that the revival of the death penalty in 1993 did not reduce the rate of violent crime there.vi

2. Countries that have abolished the death penalty had found that it had lowered the moral standard in their communities 

In determining that the death penalty is not an appropriate punishment to be applied, judges and officials across a range of cultures and communities – from the UK to South Africa – found that a State must seek to demonstrate “in the best way possible, by example, society’s own regard for human life and dignity by refusing to destroy that

of the criminal.”vii South African Constitutional Court President Arthur Chaskalson cited former US Supreme Court Justice Brennan when saying that the death penalty treats “members of the human race as nonhumans” and found it to violate fundamental principles of dignity. viii

Many have highlighted that the continued application of the death penalty encourages a cycle of violence, rather than addressing high crime rates. Bernice King, the daughter of famous civil rights activist Martin Luther King, who lost both her father and grandmother to murder, has spoken out against the death penalty saying that it “merely perpetuates the cycle of violence.”ix

The Gambia’s new president Adama Barrow announced a moratorium on the death penalty in Gambia, with a view to abolition,x just as he is trying to rectify past wrongs in the country. Similarly, Judges in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and other nations in the region have found that the death penalty constitutes an inhuman form of punishment.xi

3. Recommendations from the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa do not include the application of the death penalty 

In a recent statement, Malawi’s President Mutharika said that the international community’s stand against the death penalty and the call for accountability for violent crimes are “two viewpoints…on opposite extreme end[s] of each other.”xii

In fact, those fighting the application of the death penalty in Malawi and those seeking to protect communities with albinism stand on the same side and are promoting the same fundamental human rights values.

Communities dealing with these issues have not called for the application of the death penalty. This is seen in the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa (2017-2021), which is endorsed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and which does not entertain the application of the death penalty, but rather sets out that violence against communities with Albinism must be fought at its roots through public education and anti-discrimination programmes. Prevention and protection are the first two measures mentioned in the Action Plan.xiii

Of course, accountability is another important factor in protecting people with albinism and so the action plan rightly focuses on “effective law enforcement in response to attacks and violations against persons with albinism” (emphasis added).xiv It suggests reviewing the legislative framework around issues of trafficking of body parts, training prosecutors and investigators, issuing sentencing guidelines and assigning cases to higher courts, among other things.xv Victim support and re-integration of displaced members of the community are seen as vital components in the accountability framework.xvi


The death penalty as a tool to combat violent crimes will do a disservice to people with Albinism rather than offer them the protection and accountability they need and deserve. As is laid out above, the death penalty will not deter crime against communities with albinism. Instead it will distract policy makers from implementing alternative effective strategies, perpetuate a cycle of violence and take up resources that could otherwise be used more effectively to assist vulnerable communities.




i Death Penalty Information Center, Executions and Death Sentences Around the World, available at: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-penalty-international-perspective

ii National Research Council, Deterrence and the Death Penalty, 2012, at 2; full copy available at: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13363/deterrence-and-the-death-penalty

iii Death Penalty Information Center, Deterrence: National Research Council Concludes Deterrence Studies Should Not Influence Death Penalty Policy, available at: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-national-research-council-concludes-deterrence-studies-should-not-influence-death-penalty

iv Death Penalty Information Center, Fact Sheet, available at: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf

v Amnesty International, Death Penalty: The ultimate punishtemt at 4, available at: https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/52000/act500152008eng.pdf

vi Balita, Death Penalty has no place in civilized society, available at: http://www.balita.ca/2012/11/17/death-penalty-has-no-place-in-civilized-society/

vii State v. Makwanyane and Another, 1995 (3) SA 391 (CC) at para. 222.

viii State v. Makwanyane and Another 1995 (3) SA 391 (CC) at paras. 57, 58 (S. Afr.) (quoting Brennan, J. in Furman, 408 U.S. at 273).

ix Death Penalty Information Center, King’s Daughter says Death Penalty Perpetuates Cycle of Violence, available at: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/kings-daughter-says-death-penalty-perpetuates-cycle-violence

x Reuters, Gambia announces moratorium on death penalty, 18 Feb 2018, available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gambia-justice/gambia-announces-moratorium-on-death-penalty-idUSKCN1G20V2

xi See 2005; Constitutional Petition no.6 of 2003 1995, 1 LRC 216 (CA, Tanzania); 1995 TLR 97; 1995 (3) SA 391; CASE NO. CCT/3/94

xii Statement by President Mutharika, 5 April 2018, available at: http://www.mw.undp.org/content/malawi/en/home/presscenter/articles/2018/04/05/un-condemns-recent-attacks-on-persons-with-albinism.html

xiii Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa (2017-2021) at 2, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Albinism/Pages/AlbinismInAfrica.aspx

xiv Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa (2017-2021) at 5, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Albinism/Pages/AlbinismInAfrica.aspx

xv Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa (2017-2021) at 5-6, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Albinism/Pages/AlbinismInAfrica.aspx

xvi Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa (2017-2021) at 6, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Albinism/Pages/AlbinismInAfrica.aspx