Head of state and government Hans-Rudolf Merz
Death penalty abolitionist for all crimes
Population 7.6 million
Life expectancy 81.7 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 6/5 per 1,000
There was concern at a rise in racism and xenophobia in public discourse. Ill-treatment by law enforcement officials was alleged, including apparently racially motivated incidents. Violence against women and human trafficking continued despite legislative measures to combat them.
Racism and discrimination
Voters in a referendum held on 29 November supported a constitutional amendment to ban the construction of minarets. During the referendum campaign, the Muslim minority was severely stigmatized by political propaganda expressed by defenders of the ban. Responding to the referendum, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed concern that “an initiative that infringes human rights can be put to vote”.
The ECRI’s periodic report on Switzerland, published in September, expressed concern at increasingly racist and xenophobic political discourse, particularly in relation to the Swiss People’s Party. It also expressed concern at the limited effectiveness of the criminal law provision against racism and called for improved training of legal professionals in its application.
The report recommended that civil and criminal laws to combat racism be enhanced, in particular by introducing a provision allowing for increased penalties for racially motivated offences.
The Commission welcomed measures to improve integration of foreign nationals. However, the report also noted widespread racial discrimination in access to services. Migrant children were particularly obstructed from accessing education. Travelling communities were not provided with sufficient appropriate transit sites and must therefore stop in places not designated for this purpose, generating tensions with local people.
Police and security forces
In October, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about ongoing reports of police ill-treatment, in particular against asylum-seekers and migrants. The Committee called for the creation of independent mechanisms to investigate complaints against the police.
Migrants’ rights, refugees and asylum-seekers
A federal law entered into force on 1 January which provides that all negative decisions on naturalization must state the reasons and be open to judicial appeal.
In October, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that people whose asylum applications had been rejected were subjected to inadequate living conditions and lacked access to health care.
On 12 June, parliament approved an amendment to the Civil Law which prohibits Swiss nationals or legally resident non-nationals from marrying irregular migrants and rejected asylum-seekers.
At the end of the year, no final decision had been taken by the Federal Administrative Court regarding asylum appeals submitted to Switzerland in 2008 by three detainees held at the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay. Nevertheless, the Court reversed the decision of the Migration Office on one of the detainees and sent his case back for further inquiry, stating that his defence arguments had not been properly evaluated.
In December, the Federal Council confirmed that it would grant humanitarian protection to an Uzbek detainee held at Guantánamo Bay, and that the detainee would be received by the Canton of Geneva once a memorandum of understanding had been agreed by US and Swiss authorities. At the end of the year, the Swiss government left open the possibility of accepting more Guantánamo detainees if other cantonal authorities agreed to receive them.
Violence against women and girls
In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women welcomed legislation introduced to combat violence against women and human trafficking but noted the continued prevalence of these human rights abuses. The Committee also expressed concern that support services for victims of trafficking had been established only in a limited number of cantons and that legislation on protection of victims was applied inconsistently.
The Committee called for the establishment of more support services for victims of gender-based violence and action to eliminate discrimination against women of ethnic minority communities and migrant women. The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the Foreign Nationals Act impedes migrant women who have been subjected to domestic violence from acquiring or renewing their residency permit after a divorce.
Switzerland ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in September. In October, the Federal Council appointed a commission of 12 people as a national torture prevention mechanism.
In July, the Federal Council stated that the creation of an independent national human rights institution was “premature” and instead authorized the creation of a university-based human rights centre as a pilot project. This centre would provide advice and analysis on human rights issues on demand to clients, including governmental and private bodies. Human rights organizations criticized the proposal, however, for failing to comply with internationally recognized criteria on such institutions (“The Paris Principles”).
Amnesty International reports
Switzerland: Banning the construction of minarets would violate international human rights law (21 October 2009)
Switzerland votes against religious freedom, (30 November 2009)