Update: 12.03.2014

The CERD Committee has issued numerous recommendations towards Switzerland

For the fourth time , the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has reviewed Switzerland's efforts to fight against racism and xenophobia and discussed its findings with a Swiss delegation. The Committee gave sevral recommendations to federal and cantonal authorities and invited Switzerland to strengten its efforts. The Swiss public should be given better explanations about the effects of racist attitudes. Furthermore, efforts to increase sensibilisation for compliance with human rights and support of respect and tolerance towards different national and ethnic groups must be undertaken.

Switzerland vowed to combat racism and xenophobia

During its 84th meeting, the CERD examined for the fourth time the Swiss efforts to implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. With the ratification of this UN convention in 1994, Switzerland agreed not to tolerate racism and racist discrimination and to periodically give account of the steps taken to combat these issues. On 14 and 17 February a 15-strong Swiss delegation consisting of federal and cantonal representatives once more had to present Switzerland's efforts for the period between 2008 and early 2014 before the UN Committee.

Democratisation of discrimination

The adoption of the popular initiative «Against mass immigration» on 9 February 2014 as well as of the «expulsion initiative» in 2010 or the «minaret ban initiative» in 2009 made the Committee members worry about the implementation of the ban on racial discrimination. Even a trend towards democratisation of discrimination was felt by some Committee members. Therefore, the Committee recommended that Switzerland should introduce an effective and independent mechanism by means of which the compatibility of popular initiatives with international obligations entered into by the state can be reviewed. In addition, the government has to raise awareness among the public about such conflicts and their consequences.

Problem «hate speech»

The Committee also expressed concerns about racist stereotypes and stigmatisations brought up repeatedly in politics and the media regarding persons from Africa, South-Eastern Europe, Muslims, travellers/Yenish gypsies, asylum seekers, as well as migrants. Worries were also voiced because of the xenophobic undertone in the discussion relating to the above-mentioned popular initiatives.

The anti-racism norm defined in Art. 261bis of the Swiss Criminal Code is perceived by the Committee as being implemented very restrictively by the Swiss authorities. As an example, the law enforcement agencies do not consider racist remarks or actions which are not aimed at a specific nationality or ethnic group as being covered by this provision. The Committee thus recommended that Switzerland should raise awareness of international norms dealing with racist discrimination among law enforceemnt institutions and train them accordingly. High-ranking officials should publicly condemn racist remarks and actions. The Swiss public should be made aware of the effects that racism and racist dicrimination have on the victims.

Various legacies

The majority of the observations with regard to Switzerland are not new. Like in earlier «Concluding Observations» Switzerland is once again asked to implement more effectively the obligations entered into by ratifying the treaty, in particular:

  • To introduce a legally binding definition of racial discrimination
  • To create legal measures in civil and administrative law for fighting direct and indirect racial discrimination
  • To establish an effective data collection system facilitating the review of the efficiency of measures taken
  • To create a national human rights institution according to UN resolution 48/134 and to strengthen the mandate of the Federal Commission against Racism (FCR)
  • To eliminate discrimination in naturalisation procedures and to establish uniform standards regarding integration
  • To adopt efficient measures for the implementation of the ban on racial profiling and to initiate independent complaints mechanisms against police violence in all cantons
  • To strengthen the efforts for ensuring the rights of national minorities such as travellers, Yenish, Sinti and Roma
  • To create a national plan of action regarding the fight against racial discrimination

NGO participation

The CERD examination of Switzerland was based on the long report by Switzerland but also on alternative reports by civil society. Humanrights.ch, the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) and the Swiss Refugee Council (OSAR) cooperated to create a report by the core group NGO Platform Human Rights. This report sheds light on the development of the subject matter and reaches the conclusion that only very few of the issues addressed by the CERD in earlier reports have been tackled. The NGO platform takes the stand that the Confederation has once more not implemented the CERD recommendations of 2008.

NGO delegation audition

Four NGO platform representatives were received and consulted by the CERD Committee in Geneva on 10 February 2014. The NGO delegation consisted of four representatives of the NGO platform as well as two representatives of Geneva-based NGOs with a focus on the situation of female migrants in Switzerland. In three statements the representatives of the NGO platform explained the present climate in Switzerland with respect to racism from their point of view and addressed further problematic issues, such as the lacking legislation against discrimination, police work, as well as the situation of certain vulnerable groups. Particular attention lay on the daily situation of refugees, temporarily admitted asylum seekers or local Yenish, Sinti or Roma.

The presentation by the NGO delegation was followed by questions posed by the Committee members who, in particular, inquired about the effects of the initiative «Against mass immigration» of 9 February 2014. Further topics asked about were issues such as racial profiling, female members of minorities and restrictions on asylum seekers. One Committee member wondered whether the effects of the above-mentioned initiative would only have a limited effect in light of existin human rights obligations agreed to by Switzerland.

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