Update: 21.11.2012

Response of the Swiss Government to the CPT report on Switzerland

In the cantons of Geneva and Vaud policemen have repeatedly applied excessive force. In addition, conditions in the Geneva prison Champ-Dollon should urgently be improved. These are the conclusions reached by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

The recommendations to Switzerland published in a report are the result of the visit of a 10 people strong CPT delegation to prisons in six different cantons in October 2011. The CPT inspects a number of Swiss prisons every four years.

In general, people detained in Switzerland are treated correctly in most cases, according to the CPT report of 2011. But the CPT recommends enhancing the awareness of the Geneva and Vaud police forces with respect to assaults upon detainees and regarding the general improvement of prison conditions, for example medical care.

On 25 October 2012, the Federal Council published an official statement along with the CPT report.

Excessive use of force by the Geneva police

The CPT has found three fields in which improvements need to be made. On the one hand, measures should be taken to avoid assaults upon and ill-treatment of people in police custody. These recommendations are mainly addressed to the police forces of the cantons of Geneva and Vaud, who are said to have refused to explain prisoners the reason for their arrest and to have physically abused prisoners. In its official statement, the Federal Council holds, «that the authorities of the canton of Vaud point out that, although such instances of excessive use of force have occurred they have remained isolated cases.»

Primarily, the CPT recommends a review of the processes in regard to interrogations and arrests and an enhancement of the awareness of the police force in respect of the excessive use of force. A further topic is the use of Tasers. The Federal Council points out that the Geneva police regulations already limit the use of such devices to very specific situations. In addition, the CPT has recommended further protection measures regarding preliminary arrest and stop-and-search operations, such as the right to notify a relative about the arrest.

Prison conditions could be improved in various locations

In a second part, the CPT voices recommendations on the treatment of persons in custody or serving a sentence. It states: «As soon as possible the Confederation, the regional police agreements and the cantons should take steps so as to assure that people detained on the basis of the Aliens Act are not detained in a regular prison, but always in centres specifically established for that purpose.» The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) also pointed out this problem in its report.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture furthermore recommends measures regarding the conditions of detention. It mentions reports of ill-treatment of detainees by the personnel at Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva, as well as the deficient infrastructure at the juvenile reformatory and detention centre «La Clairière». The Committee makes general recommendations in respect to the conditions of detention of women and persons kept in maximum security units.

Several recommendations deal with the medical care of imprisoned persons. The Federal Council points out that the institutions visited have improved their medical care in the meantime. It remarks that «the inter-cantonal prison Bostadel has doubled the psychiatric care personnel and extended its medical service since the inspection of the CPT's delegation.»

Mentally ill prisoners need appropriate care

In the third part of its recommendations, the CPT focuses on inpatients and people in lifelong custody. Among other places, the Committee visited the Centre for Forensic Psychiatry in Rheinau and stated that the institutional surroundings of the patients could be made «more suited to the needs of the inmates» by revising the process of admission and the safety conditions. Furthermore, strip searches should be limited to an absolutely necessary minimum. «In general, the criticism of the CPT addresses issues that have been identified by the mental hospital to be in need of improvement or optimisation even before the visit of the CPT's delegation», as the Federal Council conceded in its statement.

A final point raised by the CPT was lifelong custody. «In the CPT’s point of view it is inhumane to detain somebody for the duration of his or her life without any real hope of discharge. Swiss authorities are therefore called upon to reconsider their concept of 'lifelong' custody».

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