Update: 19.04.2017

Compulsory social measures: the long way to rehabilitation

In 2014, the victims of compulsory social measures successfully launched a popular initiative focusing on rehabilitation. In early December 2015, the Federal Council passed a counter-proposal to this initiative which was accepted by both chambers of Swiss parliament on 30 September 2016.

The counter-proposal fulfilled the main demands of the authors of the initiative. It will not only provide a scientific analysis of what happened, but will also provide for a one-time contribution of CHF 300 million.

After the two chambers of parliament accepted the counter-proposal, the authors of the initiative withdrew their referendum. Although they are calling for higher funding, they see advantages in the counter-proposal. In particular, the indirect counter-proposal does not need a constitutional amendment to be implemented, so it can be implemented much more quickly than a popular initiative which would have to be debated and a constitutional change would be needed. This allows older victims to be compensated in time.

Furthermore, on 22 February 2017, the Federal Council launched a new National Research Programme on welfare and coercion.

The counter-proposal: recognition and financial support

The Reparation Initiative was submitted to the Swiss Federal Chancellery by its authors on 19 December 2014 along with 110,000 signatures. The authors specifically called for historical analysis of the topic and for a fund of CHF 500 million for heavily affected victims.

In a media release on 24 June 2015, the Federal Council wrote that the counter-proposal accepted the injustice that had been done to the victims of compulsory social measures and people forced into foster families. The initiative committee also found that the counter-proposal regulates the requirements for payment of financial benefits totalling CHF 300 million in favour of the estimated 12,000 to 15,000 victims. Because the Confederation had assumed a lower number of subsidy requests than the authors of the initiative, it only proposed CHF 300 million instead of CHF 500 million.

The Federal Council also stated in the press release that the chosen strategy to use an indirect counter-proposal would allow the event to be reassessed more quickly than if a legal revision was required. This way, the maximum amount of people would benefit from an acknowledgement of their trauma and from compensation in spite of their old age and fragile state of health.

These benefits convinced the authors to withdraw their initiative after Parliament accepted the Federal Council’s suggestion, on the condition that no referendum will be held. The referendum period ended on 26 January 2017, allowing the law to enter into force on 1 April 2017.

The victims of the compulsory social measures have been allowed to submit requests for a one-time contribution as of 1 December 2016.

Compulsory social measures that violated human rights

The Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) defines “compulsory social measures” as various kinds of decisions made by local authorities that were common practice up to about 1981. These include measures that led to drastic interventions in the lives of the affected persons without granting them even minimal procedural rights. For example, children were sent to foster families, men and women were sent to prison, and people underwent forced sterilization or were forced to give their children up for adoption (for information on the background and the issue, see the article: Ein Vergehen gegen die Menschenrechte: Fürsorgerische Zwangsmassnahmen nach altem Recht).

Locked away men and women finally rehabilitated by law

On 1 August 2014, a law entered into force rehabilitating all persons who were locked away for administrative reasons. The act has its origins in a parliamentary initiative launched by Paul Rechsteiner in 2011 and was replaced by the new law on 1 April 2017.

In early November 2014, the Federal Council decided to assess the impact of these past practices. It set up a commission to research the administrative placements and the effects they had on their victims. The commission is chaired by lawyer and former Director of Justice of the canton of Zurich and lawyer Markus Notter (SP). Other members include historians Thomas Huonker, Martin Lengwiler, Anne-Françoise Praz and Loretta Seglias as well as psychiatrist Jacques Gasser, canton of Zurich registrar Beat Gnädinger, legal expert Lukas Gschwend and Gisela Hauss from the School of Social Work in Olten. This commission began its work in 2015 and is scheduled to finish the project in 2018.

Furthermore, on 22 February 2017, the Federal Council launched a new National Research Programme entitled “Welfare and coercion – past, present and future”. According to the Federal Council media release, “the programme aims, from a historical perspective, to investigate the social effects and impacts of welfare and coercion (including cases of persons not undergoing administrative measures) and to generate new findings.”

Co-ordination office

The Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) appointed Luzius Mader as delegate for the victims of compulsory social measures. His website contains all the necessary information on steps that are currently being taken to research the past and provide compensation. Similar contact points for affected persons have also been set up on a cantonal level.

Round table

In 2013, the FDJP introduced a round table for the victims of compulsory social measures. The round table coordinates the reappraisal of all historical, legal, financial, socio-political and organisational issues related to compulsory social measures and is presided over by Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga and her delegate Luzius Mader. Groups participating in the round table include victims, cantons, communities, towns, institutions, commissions and the scientific community.

Fund for immediate aid

At the initiative of the round table, a fund for immediate aid for victims experiencing economic hardship was established in February 2014. Between the summer of 2014 and July 2015 the fund was administered by the Swiss Solidarity Chain and collected the applications of victims in need. According to a media release by the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) of 5 July 2016, 1,117 victims of compulsory social measures have received a total of CHF 8.7 million in immediate assistance over a period of two years. The emergency aid benefits serve as provisional assistance until a legal basis for the reappraisal of the past has been created.

Further suggestions

The round table for the victims of compulsory social measures passed a report in July 2014 with a list of measures addressed to the political authorities. It recommends financial support for the victims as well as counselling, comprehensive collection and preservation of relevant records and access to all files, and a scientific and academic analysis of this dark chapter of Swiss social history.

Additional information

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