Update: 10.05.2007

Rights of prisoners not respected in Champ-Dollon

In a report presented on 19 April 2007, a group of experts criticised the use of excessive police force, insufficient conditions of detention and the exaggerated length of investigative custody in Geneva. The report was commissioned by Geneva’s cantonal parliament, following a mutiny at the overcrowded jail of Champ-Dollon in April 2006. 200 of the prisoners threatened to go on hunger strike to protest against alleged police brutality and slow justice. This report is backed by the latest report of the Swiss Human Rights League (SHRL), who visited inmates at the prison and met with officials. The report condemns the situation at the prison saying that fundamental rights were being flouted in the facility.

Police brutality

In a confidential survey, 30 per cent of the 125 inmates questioned complained that the police used excessive force (kicks, slaps, suffocation and other forms of violence) during their arrest and interrogation. Doctors confirmed injuries in 14 cases. An under-aged youth accused police officers of holding his head under water for several times. Three others said the officers took money from them or stole their mobile phones. Some also alleged that police officers insulted them with racial comments. «It’s too much, far too much,» said Jean-Pierre Restellini, one of the three people appointed to look into the prison situation in the wake of numerous complaints from prisoners and a member of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The experts recommended that a lawyer should be present when police question detainees and that such interrogations should take place in a room equipped with cameras. He also recommended for the prisoners to have better access to doctors.

Insufficient facilities

Built to hold 270 prisoners, the Geneva facility today averages nearly twice as many – there were 472 in the facility when the experts investigated the situation. At one point last October, more than 500 inmates were crowded into its cells. It is said that many of the inmates have to spend 23 out of 24 hours in their cells, since there are not enough work opportunities. The experts, including medical doctors, said the prison was ill conceived.

Slow justice

However, the report pointed out that enlarging the facility would not solve all of the problems, since 60 per cent of the people held there were in investigative custody and were held for too long. A single judge is responsible for all of the new cases, the experts said, adding that the eight-day period during which a possible extension of custody has to be decided on, is not respected.

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