There are few clearer signatures of poor leadership in a country than the death penalty.
Throughout history, and across regions, the death penalty correlates with weak leadership, a broader lack of democratic values in society and political instability.
According to Amnesty International, at least 23 countries were known to have carried out executions in 2010. (Wikipedia)
The top eight countries for execution.
1 China (In the thousands)
2 Iran 252+
3 North Korea 60+
4 Yemen 53+
5 United States 46
6 Saudi Arabia 27+
7 Libya 18+ (Under Qaddafi, it may actually increase now)
8 Syria 17+
(and 15 other countries with less than 10 executions each).
In addition there are many "extrajudicial executions" carried out around the world. The most prolific killer in this category is probably the United States, which carries out hundreds of executions in numerous countries around the world every year. These killings are generally presented in the context of the "war on terror", but the simple truth is that there is no combat going on when these people are killed, and many of the victims are civilians.
Israel has always prided itself on being a country that does not use the death penalty.
It used to be a popular expression that "Adolph Eichmann was the only person ever executed by the state of Israel". However in 2008 a young Israeli woman doing her service in the military leaked documents with details of Israeli death squads. For exposing this secret she was sentenced to four and a half years in jail. Since then numerous additional stories of Israeli extrajudicial executions have been made public, some going back many years.
Norway is often cited as the least corrupt, and most "democratic" country in the world.
In 1902 Norway abolished executions in peacetime. The last peacetime execution in Norway was in 1876. Norway currently ranks number one, among all countries, on the Democracy Index.
Here are the top eight execution countries with their rankings on on the Democracy Index.
#1 death penalty nation China ranks at #141 on the Democracy Index (out of 167).
#2 death penalty nation Iran ranks even worse at #159.
#3 death penalty nation North Korea ranks #167 (dead last).
#4 death penalty nation Yemen ranks #150.
#5 death penalty nation The United States ranks #19.
#6 death penalty nation Saudi Arabia ranks #161.
#7 death penalty nation Libya ranks #125 (but obviously is in transition and its direction is not clear yet.
#8 death penalty nation Syria ranks #157.
One of the issues surrounding the death penalty is the execution of innocent people.
It's a pretty safe bet that no country has a more thorough and scientific process for establishing "guilt" than the United States. The U.S. has the absolute latest technology, the most highly educated investigators and so on. So the top end of standards would be the U.S.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973 140 people have been released from U.S. death row with evidence of their innocence. In addition, they have cataloged a number of cases in which a person was executed despite serious questions about their guilt.
In recent (2012) republican debates, Texas governor Rick Perry was asked if he ever had second thoughts about any of the hundreds of death warrants he signed. He said "No sir, I've never struggled with that at all,"
One of those executions (under governor Perry) that has been in the news recently is that of Cameron Todd Willingham. His three children were killed in a house fire that was determined to be arson. He was convicted of the arson, sent to death row and executed. Was he guilty of that crime? After his execution a new review by experts determined that there was not even evidence of arson.
A movie was made about that case.
Another unfortunate Texas execution was Carlos DeLuna, later shown to have been innocent.