| Korea is classified by Amnesty International vis-a-vis the death penalty as an "abolitionist in practice."
The country has carried out no executions since December 1997. After taking office in early 1998, then President Kim Dae-jung halted the implementation of capital punishment though courts continued to give out death sentences.
Korea has 60 inmates on death row and the figure will rise to 61 if the death sentence for Oh Won-chun, who was convicted in his first trial for kidnapping and murdering a young woman, is upheld. Two death row inmates committed suicide in prison in 2009 and one did so last year.
The death penalty had seldom been discussed under the administrations led by Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, but has been a number of times by the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration. In 2007, then presidential candidate Lee said in a media interview, "The death penalty should be maintained considering the nation`s responsibility to prevent crimes." Accordingly, prospects grew that policies related to the death penalty would be devised while President Lee was in office.
After an 8-year-old girl was violently raped by Cho Doo-soon in 2008, certain media reported in 2010 that the president was seriously examining the resumption of capital punishment. The Justice Ministry sentenced five people to death and made up a list of criminals primarily subject to execution, including serial murderers Yoo Yeong-cheol, Jeong Nam-kyu (who committed suicide) and Kang Ho-soon.
The presidential office opposed this, however, over fear of diplomatic conflict. In February 2010, the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled that the death penalty is not unconstitutional but no executions have been carried out since then.
Most of the world is leaning toward abolition of capital punishment. The United Nations estimates that around 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or practice or introduced a moratorium. In July this year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged an end to the death penalty. Abolition of capital punishment is a condition for entry into the European Union. The U.S. abolished the death penalty in 1972 but reinstated it in 1976 due to the rise in brutal crimes, but the number of executions and death sentences has declined.