Capital punishment advocates in Switzerland on Wednesday unexpectedly withdrew [advocacy website, in German] from their campaign to reinstate the death penalty [JURIST news archive] only one day after the Federal Chancellery [official website, in German] allowed them to begin collecting signatures [JURIST report] in support of a referendum [text, in German]. The advocacy group did not give a reason for its sudden withdrawal from the campaign, though it continues to argue that the Swiss criminal justice system hurts victims by failing to adequately punish those convicted of serious crimes. On Tuesday, the Swiss government set a six-month deadline for the group to accumulate at least 100,000 signatures in support of the measure in order to force a national popular vote. The group's campaign to change the law had started a heated debate [Swissinfo report] in the country where most people oppose the death penalty. Capital punishment was abolished from Switzerland's criminal code in 1942 and remained part of the country's military laws until 1992. The last military execution, however, took place in 1944.
Despite the continued use of the death penalty in some countries, there is a growing movement toward international abolition. Earlier this year, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] the number of countries using the death penalty dropped [report, PDF] in 2009. According to the report, more than 700 people were executed last year in 18 countries, with the most executions carried out in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the US. AI's figures exclude the estimated thousands of executions in China [press release], where the government refuses to release death penalty statistics. AI challenged China and other nations to disclose information about executions and condemned all forms of capital punishment. More than two-thirds of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.