Switzerland's commitment to a world without capital punishment

Position, 20.10.2016

Switzerland strongly opposes the death penalty in all parts of the world and under all circumstances. The right to life and respect for human dignity are central tenets of Swiss foreign policy on human rights. Switzerland aims to contribute to the abolition of capital punishment throughout the world by 2025, the target set by the FDFA's Strategy on the Universal Abolition of the Death Penalty.

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

FDFA strategy 2013–2016 on the universal abolition of the death penalty (PDF, Number of pages 10, 606.0 kB)

 

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.

Pathways to Abolition of the Death Penalty, June 2016

Death Penalty Project

Death Penalty Worldwide

Exhibition and comic series on Death Row

International Commission against the Death Penalty

World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

 

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'.

'Death Penalty and the Victims', 2016 edition (PDF, Number of pages 335, 2.4 MB, English)

“Leadership through dialogue”, article by Didier Burkhalter in: Moving Away from the Death Penalty, 2015 edition (PDF, Number of pages 4, 68.9 kB, English)

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the death penalty

Switzerland has repeatedly been active in drafting several UN resolutions:

  • UN General Assembly resolutions for a moratorium on the death penalty
    Switzerland has supported the resolution since its introduction in 2007. The resolution is presented every two years.

2014 General Assembly resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty

  • 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.

Human Rights Council approves Switzerland’s resolution on the death penalty, press release, 2 October 2015

30th session of the Human Rights Council (14 September-2 October 2015)

 

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 penalty
    Switzerland ratified the covenant in 1975 and its second protocol in 1994.

Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (fr)

  • 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.

Convention on the Rights of the Child (fr)

  • 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.

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 (fr)

 

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.

Hands Off Cain: database on individual countries application of the death penalty

Amnesty International – Death penalty facts and figures (fr)

 

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."

Historical Dictionary of Switzerland: Death penalty