The global commitment to and promotion of human rights are a priority of Switzerland's foreign policy. The abolition of the death penalty is a central topic in this regard; capital punishment is incompatible with respect for human rights (the right to life) and, given that it is irreversible, constitutes the ultimate negation of all rights. In addition, it contributes to increasing discrimination and can result in the execution of innocent people.
Switzerland is seeking to contribute to the universal abolition of the death penalty, or at the very least to a worldwide moratorium on executions, by 2025. In line with the FDFA's Strategy on the Universal Abolition of the Death Penalty, Switzerland is primarily active in four areas:
- urging all states and territories that retain the death penalty to include the prohibition of capital punishment in their national legislation or, initially, to renounce its application
- making every effort to ensure that those states and territories yet unable to abolish the death penalty reduce the number of capital offences or, more generally, the number of death sentences
- engaging with those states and territories that continue to carry out executions to ensure their compliance with minimum standards of international law
- strengthening the international normative framework by working actively in multilateral forums such as the United Nations
Working globally to abolish the death penalty
Switzerland actively engages in an open and constructive dialogue with countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty. To this end, Switzerland cooperates with internationally renowned experts, researchers and organisations, such as the Death Penalty Project, an international group of lawyers, the International Commission against the Death Penalty and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, an international NGO network.
Switzerland also cooperates with the Death Penalty Worldwide internet platform. Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter signed the foreword to its latest publication (Pathways to Abolition, June 2016).
Switzerland works together with various academic partners to promote research projects. These projects aim to improve understanding of the different elements of capital punishment – potential miscarriages of justice, does not act as a deterrent, changing public opinion.
Switzerland also supports art projects aimed at raising the public’s awareness of capital punishment, for instance via the exhibition and comic series “Windows on Death Row” produced by Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte.
Engagement at the United Nations
On 21 September 2016, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter made a speech on the death penalty and its victims during an event organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York as part of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly.
"Capital punishment is not the answer: it only creates more victims, more violence and more suffering", speech by Didier Burkhalter at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly ,The Death Penalty and Victims Event, 21 September 2016
Switzerland is actively working with the OHCHR, which plays a key role in the international movement for the abolition of capital punishment. In addition to a financial contribution by the FDFA to the 2016 publication 'Death Penalty and the Victims', Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter contributed an article to the 2015 edition of 'Moving Away from the Death Penalty'.
Switzerland has repeatedly been active in drafting several UN resolutions:
- UN General Assembly resolutions for a moratorium on the death
Switzerland has supported the resolution since its introduction in 2007. The resolution is presented every two years.
- Human Rights Council resolutions
On 1 October 2015 the Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution which highlights the human rights violations suffered by persons awaiting execution and their loved ones.
International treaties ratified by Switzerland
Switzerland has ratified a number of international treaties aimed at abolishing the death penalty:
- The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights which aims to abolish the death
Switzerland ratified the covenant in 1975 and its second protocol in 1994.
- Prohibition of capital punishment in the Convention on the
Rights of the Child
Switzerland ratified this convention in 1994, which prohibits application of the death penalty for persons who were under 18 years of age when the crime was committed.
- Protocol No. 13 to the Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, concerning the abolition of the
death penalty in all circumstances
In 2002, Switzerland was one of the first countries to sign this protocol and ratify it the same year. The protocol obliges states parties not to impose the death penalty or carry out executions, even in times of war or the imminent threat of war.
Towards universal abolition
Over 100 countries have abolished capital punishment completely from their national legislation. More than 50 countries which have not carried out executions for at least 10 years have a de facto moratorium. In all, over 150 countries no longer apply the death penalty. Only around 40 countries retain the death penalty, with important differences in the frequency and number of executions that are carried out. Only four countries continue to carry out a large number of executions on a regular basis. There is a clear global trend towards a moratorium and universal abolition.
History of the death penalty in Switzerland
The unified Swiss Criminal Code, which entered into force in 1942, abolished capital punishment for ordinary crimes. The death penalty was completely abolished, including in military law, in 1992 (in 1944, during the Second World War, 17 members of the Swiss Armed Forces were executed for high treason). Article 10 paragraph 1 of the 2000 Federal Constitution states that "Every person has the right to life. The death penalty is prohibited."