Capital punishment in Switzerland

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Capital punishment is forbidden in Switzerland by article 10, paragraph 1 of the Swiss Federal Constitution. It was abolished from federal criminal law in 1942, but remained available in military criminal law until 1992.

Use until 1937

In the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, the most common method for execution, at least for males, was the decapitation with the sword. The archivist Gerold Meyer von Knonau has provided statistics for the canton of Zurich from the 15th century up to, and including the 18th century. 1445 persons were condemned to death (1198 men, 247 women). 915 of these were sentenced to be beheaded, 270 hanged, 130 burnt alive, 99 drowned, 26 broken on the wheel, 1 quartered alive, 2 buried alive, 1 immured, and the last one was impaled. The last three execution methods were in use in the 15th century, drowning was discontinued in 1613.[1]

In 1835, the guillotine was added, although many cantons allowed the person to be executed to choose between these two methods. One of the last people to be executed with a sword was Niklaus Emmenegger in Lucerne on July 6, 1867. Héli Freymond was also executed with a sword in Vaud on January 11, 1868. In 1848, the death penalty for political crimes was forbidden by the constitution. In 1874, it was then generally abolished. However, because of an increase in crime (which was probably due to the economic depression at the time) capital punishment was re-introduced in 1879.


On December 21, 1937, the Federal Assembly of Switzerland adopted the first national criminal code. It abolished capital punishment, which had been provided for by several cantonal criminal codes. The new code was ratified by referendum on July 3, 1938, and entered into force on January 1, 1942. The last person to be sentenced to death by a civil court and executed was Hans Vollenweider, convicted of three murders and then executed on October 18, 1940 in Sarnen, Obwalden.

Swiss military law, however, still provided for the death penalty for treason. During World War II, 30 people were sentenced to death, and 17 of these were executed before the end of the war. This law was abolished by the Federal Assembly on March 20, 1992 after a parliamentary initiative by Massimo Pini of the Free Democratic Party of Switzerland. The 1999 Swiss Federal Constitution then banned the death penalty at the constitutional level.

Re-introduction initiatives

Two initiatives have so far been launched to amend the Constitution to provide for the reintroduction of capital punishment. The first, in 1985, would have made drug dealing punishable by death. It did not manage to collect the required 100,000 signatures for a binding national referendum.[2]

In August 2010, family members of a murder victim launched another constitutional amendment initiative to provide for capital punishment in cases of murder combined with sexual violence.[2] The initiative quickly found itself at the center of public attention and was roundly rejected by political leaders; it was withdrawn a day after its official publication.[3]


  1. von Knonau, Gerold Meyer (1846). Der canton Zürich, historisch-geographisch-statistisch geschildert von den ältesten zeiten bis auf die gegenwart: Ein hand- und hausbuch für jedermann, Zweiter Band. St.Gallen and Bern: Bei Huber und compagnie. pp. 334–335.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Death penalty initiative launched in Switzerland". swissinfo. 24 August 2010. Retrieved 24 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Death penalty initiative is withdrawn". swissinfo. 25 August 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>