Update: 16.09.2015

Council of Europe publishes its fifth racism monitoring report on Switzerland

On 16 September 2014, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published its fifth monitoring report on Switzerland examining racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance. It acknowledges some progress Switzerland achieved in the fight against racism, approving in particular the fact that the cantons were obliged to make counselling programmes available to all victims of racist discrimination.

The ECRI mainly criticises the fact that the political discourse in Switzerland is sometimes xenophobic, homophobic and transphobic. Once more it also regretted the fact that Switzerland does not have sufficient anti-discrimination laws. The Commission especially mentions the partially insufficient support of migrants concerning their integration and concludes that there is a lack of programmes for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) was founded by the heads of state and government of the member states of the Council of Europe. Every member state of the CoE is entitled to appoint a member to the Commission as an independent expert (representing Switzerland: Daniel Thürer, professor emeritus of the University of Zurich). Every five years the Commission produces country assessments which report on the implementation of the recommendations given in previous monitoring reports and make new recommendations.

This year’s monitoring report on Switzerland is based on the analysis of various documents and the visit of a delegation to the country. This visit took place in October 2013 when the ECRI delegates met with representatives of federal offices, inter-cantonal conferences, the cantons and the town of Geneva as well as with representatives of extra-parliamentarian commissions and NGOs

ECRI acknowledges Switzerland’s partial progress

Besides commending the conclusion of the Cantonal Integration Programmes (KIP), the Commission in particular acknowledges the creation of new institutions for the fight against racism and intolerance. It explicitly commends the creation of ombudsman institutions in various cantons and towns as well as the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights (SCHR), which exists since 2010. In addition, the ECRI welcomes the self-regulatory measures of certain media in the fight against «hate speeches». These range from the abolition of anonymity of contributors to an automatic closing of accounts of persons expressing themselves in a racist manner.

The ECRI also welcomes the cantons’ efforts to lower the mandatory school age to four years and acknowledges Switzerland's efforts to promote the integration of migrants into the labour market.

Most of all, the Commission applauded the training provided by the ombudswoman of the canton of Zurich on the term «racial profiling». It particularly welcomes the improvements in the training programme of police candidates regarding human rights issues.

The ECRI identifies many deficiencies

Inadequate legislation against racism and racial discrimination

As done repeatedly before, the ECRI criticises the fact that Switzerland still has neither ratified nor signed the Additional Protocol No. 12 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), which establishes a broad ban on discrimination. Whereas the Commission welcomes the broad acceptance of Art. 261bis of the Swiss penal code, it regrets that the motives of race, ethnic origin and religion are frequently interpreted to narrowly  and calls for an extension of the penal provision by the motives skin colour, language and nationality. In connection therewith it again recommends that Switzerland extends its protection for the victims of racial discrimination by the swift adoption of comprehensive legislation in its civil and constitutional law.

The ECRI sternly objects to Art. 86 Asylum Act that imposes a 10% special income tax for a maximum of ten years on asylum seekers and vulnerable persons without a residence permit who undertake paid work. This article is seen to infringe Art. 29 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Problematic dependence of the FCR

With regard to the Federal Commission against Racism (FCR) the ECRI criticises that the institution is neither fully independent nor does it have the necessary competences to accept individual complaints, to secure evidence and to intervene in legal proceedings.

Racism in public debates

The ECRI again expressed its concernss about racist tendencies in the public political dialogue. Hate speech aggravates the living conditions of Muslims, dark-skinned people, Yeniche and other groups of Roma people, refugees, migrant workers and LGBT persons. Public prosecutors should adopt a zero tolerance approach in respect of racist statements made by politicians. In addition, the ECRI objects to the lack of awareness among media professionals with regard to potentially stigmatising effects of their articles. Existing routine and reflexes lead to increasingly biased reporting.

This links in with the present methodology of statistical offices regarding the presentation of their data on asylum and offences committed by foreigners. The results nurture populist theories and easily give a misleading impression.

Lack of political measures for the integration of national and LGBT minorities

The ECRI also criticises Swiss integration policy towards the national minority of the Yeniche people. There is a severe lack of sites for them to stay and there is an urgent need for projects to guarantee the education of their children without unduely restricting the lifestyle of the families.

With regard to LGBT persons the Commission criticises the missing legislation against discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity. In addition, there is a lack of comprehensive support measures and independent bodies actively promoting public acceptance. In the Commission’s view the Swiss population still does not comprehend the complexity of problems LGBT persons are facing.

Renewed criticism of racial profiling

The third monitoring report already included a warning regarding racial profiling. The ECRI welcomes steps that have been taken by the cantons in this context but at the same time criticises that dark-skinned people are living in constant fear to be stopped and searched by police because of racial profiling.

The ECRI adopts 21 recommendations to Switzerland

The fifth monitoring report closes with 21 recommendations to Switzerland. Specific attention has been paid to the following suggestions: Switzerland should strengthen the role of the FCR while also commissioning independent bodies with the promotion of public acceptance of LGBT persons. These two recommendations will be reviewed at an interim stage two years after the publication of the report at the latest.


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