Switzerland’s fight to abolish the death penalty

Iran executed at least 567 people last year, mostly for drugs related charges Reuters

Switzerland is pursuing an ambitious goal to abolish capital punishment around the world by 2025. An Amnesty International report has found that the number of countries practicing the death penalty continues to fall.

Frédéric Burnand, Geneva

"Didier Burkhalter quickly committed to the fight against the death penalty and made it a priority; he's extremely active on this issue," Amnesty Switzerland's lawyer Alain Bovard said of the Swiss Foreign Minister who assumed the role five years ago.

Amnesty International hopes that Switzerland's strategy will pay off in the long term. The human rights organisation published its annual report on the death penalty on Tuesday which found that 1,032 people were executed around the world in 2016, amounting to 37% fewer than the previous year (1,634). However, those figures did not include China, which guards its execution data as a state secret.

More and more nations are choosing to end capital punishment altogether. According to Amnesty, 104 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes by 2016, compared to only 16 that had done so by 1977. 

Swiss diplomats are working at different levels to try to convince the 23 countries that still carry out executions to end the practice.

Their strategy involves pushing states to abolish capital punishment or to encourage them not to apply the death penalty. Diplomats also encourage countries to reduce the number of offences that result in the death penalty. Switzerland pursues this strategy both bilaterally and in international forums like the United Nations.

Switzerland also collaborates with civil society groups and academics like the Death Penalty Project implemented by a group of international lawyers, the International Commission against the Death Penalty composed of high-ranking officials, and the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, a group of international NGOs. 

The last civilian execution in Switzerland took place in 1940. But the death penalty was only abolished completely in 1992.

End of insertion

Since 2014, Amnesty has brought together a dozen Swiss parliamentarians to fight for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide. 

"This informal group has been active on various occasions, lobbying foreign parliaments and governments to either call for a condemned prisoner to be pardoned or to seek the abolition of the death penalty," the organisation said.

Last year, several parliamentarians traveled to Malaysia to lobby their counterparts with some success. For the first time, the government was willing to provide details on the number of annual executions.

Last year, more than 90% of the world's executions took place five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. Overall, more than 3,000 people in 55 countries were sentenced to death, marking a 56% surge from 2015.

China is believed to have executed "thousands" of people, more than the combined figure of at least 1,023 executions in 23 other countries last year, according to Amnesty International.

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know: community-feedback@swissinfo.ch

Share this story