Update: 09.08.2017

Latest recommendations for Switzerland from the UN Human Rights Committee

The panel of experts for the supervision of the UN covenant on civil and political rights, the Human Rights Committee (HRC), published its recommendations in its fourth periodic review of Switzerland. The main topics were the implementation of civil liberties and the principle of non-discrimination in Switzerland.

Detailed and important criticism

What garnered the most attention was the Human Rights Committee’s request for the Swiss political system to finally exam whether or not popular initiatives are in agreement with international obligations Switzerland has entered into. The Committee was particularly concerned about the “Self-Determination Initiative” launched by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) (para. 6-7). It also explicitly criticised the ban on building minarets (typically part of a mosque) in the federal constitution and strongly recommended the ban be lifted (para. 42-43).

The Human Rights Committee reacted quickly to one aspect of the report and drafted a law on a Swiss human rights institution, which it published on 28 June 2017 (German article on humanrights.ch). The Human Rights Committee also expressed its concerns about the relatively low budget for the human rights institution and the plan to anchor it in an academic environment. It emphasised the necessity to provide the human rights institution with a broad mandate to protect human rights and sufficient staffing and funding (para. 14-15).

One of the most striking new criticisms addressed the treatment of mentally ill prisoners and the practice of the “small indefinite detention” according to Art. 59 of the Swiss Criminal Code (para. 38-39).

Increased protection against discrimination a must

Like other UN bodies had done before, the Human Rights Committee for the first time criticised the lack of comprehensive legislation against discrimination that would allow all victims to defend themselves effectively before both civil and public courts, irrespective of the motive of discrimination (article on humanrights.ch).

The Committee recommended extending the criminal ban on discrimination according to Art. 262bis of the Criminal Code (ban on racial discrimination) to include more motives for discrimination (such as gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, disability, etc.) in order to be able to take legal action against more than racist, ethnic and religious discrimination.

The UN team of experts also called for a guarantee that people with disabilities be informed of their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (para. 16-17).

Other points of criticism included bans on discrimination, the wage inequality between men and women and the under-representation of women in politics and science (para. 18-19).

There was also a call for stronger measures against hate speech (para. 20-21) and effective measures against racial profiling by police forces (para. 22-23).

Finally, the Human Rights Committee recommended authorities ensure that medically unnecessary operations no longer be performed on people with gender variations without their explicit consent and that victims of such operations be financially compensated and receive psychological support upon request (para. 24-25).

Subjects under renewed investigation

Various additional topics that were already part of the Committee’s 2009 recommendations for Switzerland are still relevant in 2017, such as violence against immigrant women (para. 26-27), independent complaint and investigation mechanisms in cases of unlawful police violence and statistics about such cases (para. 28-29), an explicit ban on torture in criminal law (para. 30-31), improved supervision of compulsory measures during the repatriation of rejected asylum seekers (para. 32-33), strict separation of grown-up and unaccompanied underage asylum seekers (para. 34-35), prison overcrowding (para. 36-37), and the fight against human trafficking (para. 40-41).

New recommendations

The Committee was alarmed by the clothing rules and other measures that mainly affect Muslims and Muslimas (para. 44-45), as well as threats to privacy under the new Intelligence Service Act (para. 46-47), and the restrictions on the freedom to protest under the 2016 law in the canton of Geneva. The Human Rights Committee called for an inter-cantonal action plan to ensure sufficient land for Yeniche, Sinti, and Roma people in Switzerland (para. 50-51).

A compilation of the questions and answers provided by the Swiss delegation can be found in a press release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The concluding remarks and recommendations made by the Human Rights Committee are expected in late July 2017.

The most important documents of the whole reporting process can be found here:

Information from civil society as a basis for the Committee members

Shadow report by the NGO Platform Human Rights

Before the Human Rights Committee revised Switzerland’s report, the NGO Platform Human Rights produced a report which was then revised by humanrights.ch, amnesty international Switzerland, Inclusion Handicap, the Swiss Refugee Council, the Child Rights Network Switzerland, and Terre des femmes Switzerland.

This report mainly elaborates on questions raised in the list of issues and focuses on the principle of non-discrimination and the lack of factual access to justice. Although Swiss legislation provides legal means to fight violations of civil and political rights as guaranteed in Pact II, the barriers to jurisdiction remain too high for a lot of people, as exemplified by the small number of cases that made it to court. This is particularly evident in the discrimination of private individuals at work, at home, and in the services available to them. Furthermore, there is no effective protection against hate speech. In particular, there is not protection against sexist, homophobic, and transphobic hate speech on social media. The NGO report also addresses a great number of other current human rights problems in Switzerland.

Further shadow reports

Five more reports were made accessible to the Human Rights Committee that discussed the inhuman or degrading treatment of various groups of people in Switzerland including non-binary individuals, the human rights situation of the non-Swiss population including migrants and asylum seekers, and the situation in prisons.

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