Every five years, since 1975, the Secretary-General has prepared a report on the status of the death penalty. The reports include statistical tables, and are based on questionnaires circulated to Member States as well as on other sources. These reports provide an extremely useful mapping of the progress in the reduction and eventual elimination of capital punishment. The first report was actually quite pessimistic. According to the Secretary-General:
It remains extremely doubtful whether there is any progression towards the restriction of the use of the death penalty. Periods of abolition or non-use may be succeeded by widespread executions in a highly unstable political situation or by a sudden return to the death penalty as a sanction where a state feels insecure. Moreover, in a few States where serious forms of terror and violence have been experienced, the death penalty has been used increasingly as counter-terror, or deterrence...
What a misjudgment that was! Since 1975, every year two to three States have abandoned the use of capital punishment. Today, only a small number of States - about 35 - still resort to the death penalty. If the consistent pattern since 1975 is maintained, universal abolition cannot be much more than a decade away.
The latest of the five-year or 'quinquennial' reports was issued two months ago. Although the more recent are generally available somewhere on the UN website(s), the early reports are not accessible on line, to my knowledge. In order to make this material more accessible, I am posting all of the reports:
2010; 2005; 2000; 1995; 1990 A, B, C; 1985 A, B, C; 1980 A, B, C; 1975