Update: 06.11.2013

Worldwide abolishment of death penalty by 2025: Swiss aims and strategies

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) decided on promoting the ambitious long-term objective of abolishing capital punishment by the year 2025. In its 2013-2016 strategy, the Federal Council stipulated a concrete schedule to achieve this goal. To date 58 states and territories have still not abolished the death penalty.

Against human dignity

In his communiqué of 10 October, the international day against death penalty, the Federal Councillor declared that Switzerland takes a firm position against capital punishment in all circumstances. The death penalty is contradictory to the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms since it violates the right to life. Burkhalter continued to say that the conditions connected to the use of the death penalty violate human dignity and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. After all the death penalty constitutes a definitive and irreversible negation of all law.

The Confederation intends to implement the abolishment of capital punishment in small steps, by beginning in places where the concrete conditions of death row inmates and their families can be improved in the near future. Increased focus shall be placed on the immediate environment of the convicts, especially in connection with the rights of possible minor descendants who are particularly protected by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The FDFA has also set several medium-term objectives. Primarily countries still applying death penalties are to be encouraged to introduce a moratorium for pending cases. Secondly Switzerland wants to urge states to limit the number of crimes for which capital punishment can be pronounced. For example, pregnant women, mentally handicapped persons or offenders who have been convicted of crimes committed when they were minors. Thirdly Switzerland wants to increase its efforts and commitment on a multilateral level (UN, Council of Europe, OSCE) in order to motivate states to ratify a respective international treaty.

More details about the Swiss strategy

As a matter of fact, Switzerland has several starting points from where to try and achieve its goals. On an international level one of the most frequently discussed topics is which acts are the «most serious crimes», deserving the full penalty of law. The Swiss strategy heads in the direction that states applying death penalty should, as a first step, begin to only impose capital punishment in cases of murder or intentional homicide. This could help lower the number of death penalties, especially in states in which certain offences (such as drug trafficking) are automatically punished by death penalty. Another promising approach for Switzerland is to expand in stages the list of persons in international law which are not allowed to be sentenced to death, for example mothers with babies or elderly people.

In addition, the Confederation wants to achieve on a multilateral level that the rights of the relatives are to be respected better. For example, states that apply the death penalty shall have to inform the families of prisoners condemned to death on the place and date of the execution and on where they can collect the remains of their next of kin. Several states such as Japan still practise secret executions, and in too many states the relatives never get to know about the whereabouts of their dead relatives’ bodies.

Switzerland will soon have the chance to address the topic of death penalties prominently on a multilateral level. In 2014 Switzerland will preside the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and in this function will have the possibility of requesting the member states to adhere to the norms agreed to within the framework of the human dimension of the OSCE.

Joint call for universal abolition

As in 2012, Switzerland and its five neighbouring states teamed up to present an action plan on the World Day against the Death Penalty which was published in various newspapers in Switzerland and abroad. The call is co-signed by 42 Foreign Ministers who represent the Council of Europe member states who have ratified Protocol No. 13 of the ECHR (concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances).

The parliament takes a stand

Recently the national parliament also took a strong stand for the abolition of capital punishment. In 2013, the National Council and the Council of States have both agreed to a motion by National Councillor Barbara Schmid-Federer (Christian Democratic People's Party) that wants to forbid the “export of medicaments for the use of capital punishment”.


Further information

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