Death penalty moratorium: UN General Assembly adopts resolution negotiated by Switzerland

Bern, 16.12.2020 - On 16 December, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment. This latest resolution negotiated by Switzerland and Mexico advances the ongoing efforts towards the universal abolition of the death penalty and contains key amendments for women, minors and the families of prisoners sentenced to death. The resolution was adopted by 123 member states. Four new countries voted yes for the first time. This is the most important support ever given to this initiative at the UN General Assembly.

The main objective of the resolution is to encourage more states to place a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty in their countries. More than half of the 106 member states of the United Nations (UN) have abolished the use of capital punishment in their domestic legislation for all crimes. This figure increases to 142 when the number of states that are abolitionist in practice is included – this amounts to two-thirds of countries worldwide. That leaves 49 states that continue to apply the death penalty. The current resolution reflects the global trend towards abolition, and helps support the efforts of all stakeholders working in this field, including civil society.

The universal abolition of the death penalty is one of Switzerland's foreign policy priorities. Capital punishment has no proven deterrent effect, it does not foster reconciliation, and it should be regarded as a form of torture. In addition to multilateral efforts and support for local projects, Switzerland addresses this issue at regular intervals through its bilateral dialogues with all countries that continue to apply the death penalty.

The resolution – which has come before the General Assembly every two years since 2007 – contains substantial improvements this year, such as abolishing the discriminatory application of the death penalty against women, and recognising the key role played by civil society in the debate. The new resolution also stipulates improvements in various other areas – conditions of detention for prisoners sentenced to death, information for them and their families, and protection of minors. The latter, for example, means that the death penalty may not be sought or carried out if the person is under 18 years of age at the time.

The resolution was presented by Switzerland and Mexico for the first time on behalf of an inter-regional task force made up of a variety of countries and was adopted after almost two months of negotiations. The cross-regional backing for this initiative reflects the number of countries with different legal systems, traditions, cultures and religions that support the universal abolition of the death penalty. It sends a strong signal from the UN's main political body – urging greater respect for human dignity, and advancing the protection of human rights.


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