What we do
The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide provides transparent data on death penalty laws and practices around the world, publishes reports and manuals on issues of practical relevance to lawyers, judges, and policymakers, trains lawyers in best practices, and engages in targeted advocacy and litigation. Its staff and faculty advisors have collectively spent more than eight decades representing hundreds of prisoners facing the death penalty, and their research has informed legal reform and public policy in countries around the world. Clinical Professor Sandra Babcock and Executive Director Delphine Lourtau created the foundation for the Center’s work by establishing the Death Penalty Worldwide database in 2011. Five years later, with donor support, they launched the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. The Center has gained a reputation for providing comparative legal analysis of the application of the death penalty, as well as for its one-of-a-kind Makwanyane Institute for capital defenders. Center staff and associated faculty continue to defend persons facing the death penalty around the world, with a combined caseload of dozens of death row prisoners. Students play a major role in our advocacy efforts through Professor Babcock’s International Human Rights Clinic. Generations of Cornell undergraduates and law students have contributed to our research, training, and individual case representation.
Increasing Transparency on Death Penalty Practices
We believe that access to current and accurate information on death penalty practices is vital to inform policy decisions and legal analysis relating to capital punishment. The Database is the centerpiece of our research mandate, providing quick access to data on the practices and laws of individual countries. It permits users to search across jurisdictions to compare state practice in a wide variety of areas and to confront those practices with international human rights standards. The Database’s advanced search capabilities, which are unique among human rights databases, allow users to combine different variables and find answers in a matter of seconds. In addition, we publish thematic reports and manuals designed to assist lawyers, government actors, courts, and civil society in navigating death penalty advocacy and research.
Advocating on Behalf of Women and Men Facing the Death Penalty
Our Center’s strength derives from its combination of research and advocacy. Our advocacy is strengthened by our research, and our practical experience informs our research agenda. Advocacy on behalf of death row prisoners not only benefits individual clients, but develops precedent to advance human rights. Through our Africa Appeals project, the Center works with law students from the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic, as well as in-country partners, to provide legal assistance to death row prisoners in Malawi, Tanzania, and elsewhere. Our Alice Project, which is the first global project to focus on women facing capital punishment, examines the role of gender in death penalty cases. By representing women before national and international tribunals, organizing judicial trainings, and through data collection and analysis, we are exposing the connection between gender-based discrimination and capital sentencing.
Training New Generations of Lawyers Around the World
An effective defense is the best—and often the only—protection against wrongful convictions, coerced confessions, abuses of state power, and fair trial violations. Yet few lawyers receive training in the specialized field of capital defense, which requires unique skills and strategic knowledge. To promote meaningful and sustainable improvements to the worldwide legal representation of capital clients, the Center created the Makwanyane Institute, an intensive educational program designed to build skills, increase capacity, and create a sustainable community of capital defense lawyers from around the world, particularly in Africa.
Building Trans-National Communities
The Center is invested in developing a global network of individuals working to promote international human rights standards in the use of capital punishment. Fellows, trainers, and experts from past Makwanyane Institutes form the Makwanyane Defenders network, which provides a platform for the exchange of ideas, strategies, and mutual support. The Alice Network brings together death penalty abolitionists and gender rights organizations striving to obtain redress for women and gender-non-conforming individuals facing the death penalty. The Mental Health Working Group combines the cross-disciplinary expertise of legal and mental health professionals to develop a set of best practices for mental health assessment in capital cases.