The anti-death penalty movement is rooted in the Enlightenment, dating back to the publication of the Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria’s treatise, Dei delitti e delle pene (1764). That book, later translated into English as An Essay on Crimes and Punishments (1767), has inspired anti-death penalty advocacy for more than 250 years. This Article traces the development of the abolitionist movement since Beccaria’s time. In particular, it highlights how the debate over capital punishment has shifted from one focused primarily on the severity of monarchical punishments, to deterrence, to one framed by the concept of universal human rights, including the right to life, human dignity, and the right to be free from torture and cruel and inhuman punishments. The Article describes the humble origins of the anti-death penalty movement and it discusses how that movement, which has seen many successes and setbacks, is now an international campaign led by multiple NGOs and scores of antideath penalty activists. After looking at the history of the movement and where it has already been, the Article examines where the anti-death penalty movement is likely heading in the years to come. It concludes that, in light of the immutable characteristics of death sentences and executions, the death penalty should be classified under the rubric of torture. While capital punishment was once universally accepted as a lawful sanction, the majority of the world’s nations no longer permit executions. The Article explores the cruel, inhuman, and torturous characteristics of the death penalty, and it encourages 21st-century opponents of capital punishment to continue their struggle to abolish the punishment of death.
John D. Bessler, The Abolitionist Movement Comes of Age: From Capital Punishment as a Lawful Sanction to a Peremptory, International Law Norm Barring Executions, 79 Mont. L. Rev. 7 (2018).