Update: 13.11.2008

Swiss prisons reviewed by CPT: report published

The great majority of the persons detained in Switzerland are treated correctly – but the Geneva police force is heavily criticised for their behaviour. This is the main conclusion of the Report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to the Swiss government. Still, several recommendations were made, which the Swiss Federal Council partly already implemented. The CPT report, and the Swiss answer were made public on 13 November 2008.

Summary of the conclusions

In this report the Geneva police force is heavily criticised for their behaviour. The CPT calls the police to limit its use of force to the strict minimum and remind that nothing justifies beatings to a person under control. The allegations of ill treatment against the Geneva cantonal police range from "an isolated slap" to "more serious abuse like kicks, punches, blows with a truncheon or the abusive use of tear gas", as well as "the non-conform use of dogs", and two cases of "submarino" (near-sumersion).

Another area of concern for the Committee is the treatment of minors during arrests and interrogations.  During their detention, minors should have access to professional training. According to the European experts, foreigners waiting for expulsion should live, while detained, as normally as possible. Detainees with mental trouble should be guaranteed appropriate conditions of detentions and access to medical case. Last but not least, no insight of torture or severe ill-treatment was observed, and the conditions of detention were qualified as being good.

Reaction of the Swiss authorities

In their official reply to the report, the Swiss Federal Council said certain measures had already been undertaken to implement the CPT's recommendations following its visit. They added that two messages condemning ill treatment had been sent to the entire Geneva force. The Swiss government stressed that the vast majority of people who had been interviewed by the European team of human rights experts said the police had dealt with them correctly during their arrest, interrogation and detention.
The great majority of the persons detained in Switzerland are treated correctly. This is the main conclusion of the Report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to the Swiss government. Still, several recommendations were made, which the Swiss Federal Council partly already implemented. The CPT report, and the Swiss answer were made public on 13 November 2008.

  • see official documents and reaction in the press below

Procedure

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited Switzerland for the fifth time in order to review conditions of detention. Between September 24th and October 5th, 2007, its delegation visited several detention centres; its experts spoke confidentially with condemned persons deprived of freedom, but also with persons in preventive detention. It published their preliminary report on their country visit to Switzerland in autumn 2007, then an official report with recommendations in March 2008. The Swiss government had six months time to respond to this report, which was discussed on 26 September 2008. As usual, the government choose to publish the report and its answers.

Visits to 5 cantons

The CPT visited Switzerland for the fifth time between 24 September and 5 October 2007. Its experts visited several detention centres and spoke in confidence with condemned persons deprived of freedom, but also with persons in preventive detention. The places of detention visited included the prisons of Lenzburg, Thorberg, Crêtelongue, Pöschwies and Champ-Dollon, two approved schools, prisons for deportations of foreigners as well as several police prisons. After the visit the Federal Department of Justice published a statement saying that the Committee did not report any findings on cases of torture or severe ill-treatment. The preliminary report of the CPT, however, shows a slightly different picture. 

Police violence in Geneva

The CPT found only little evidence of physical ill-treatment by security forces in the visited detention centres. But several persons who had been taken under arrest recently reported that they had been ill-treated by Genevan police officers. They reportedly were kicked, beaten, choked or police dogs were used, even after the officers already had them under control. CPT writes that such actions were «simply unacceptable» and would have to be sanctioned. 

The delegation found that in general persons arrested by the police were rarely informed on their rights straight from the beginning, in a language that they understood. At the same time the experts appreciated that according to the new penal law (art. 213) the officers responsible had to immediately inform the next of kin of a person arrested. But the CPT regrets that there is no provision for immediate legal representation of the arrested.

Detention prior to deportation

The report of the Council of Europe experts pointed out that in the context of detention centres for people to be deported, and penitentiaries, the custodians had to be specially trained for their job. The CPT welcomed that, in detention centres for people to be deported that they visited in Geneva, whenever force was used a member of the management attended the procedure, which would offer a minimal amount of control. But it also points out that these centres are unfit for holding people for a prolonged period of time, as intended by the law (up to two years). In cases of forced deportation the experts stress that the use of tasers was inappropriate. 

Prisons and other penal institutions

The conditions in the visited places of detention in the Cantons of Aargau, Bern, Solothurn and Zurich the CPT describes as good to very good. The prison Champ-Dollon (Geneva) however, had serious problems with overcrowding and its resulting difficulties. A few inmates also reported ill-treatment by the security personnel of that prison. CPT writes that the number of detainees must be reduced, no matter what the costs would be. The experts were also concerned that none of the visited prisons had found a satisfactory solution for the housing of seriously maladjusted mentally ill persons and persons sentenced to life prison without parole.

Treatment of minors

Particular attention was paid to the situation of minors during the visit of the delegation. In this context the CPT criticised that the legal guardians of minors were not always immediately and systematically informed of the arrest. There were alleged cases in Aargau, Valais and Zurich that minors were interrogated and had to sign protocols without an adult confidant present. 

The CPT received information from female inmates of the approved school at Lory/Münsingen of a disproportionate use of force (i.a. choking). One of the persons affected had not been examined by a doctor despite having respiratory problems afterwards. The CPT concludes that use of force always has to be reported to the management and in serious cases a medical examination had to be ordered.

Official documents

Press

Further information

 

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