Amnesty International Report 2005 - Switzerland
|Publication Date||25 May 2005|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2005 - Switzerland , 25 May 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/429b27da20.html [accessed 26 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Covering events from January - December 2004
There were further allegations of ill-treatment, use of excessive force and racist abuse by police officers. An amendment to the asylum law impeded the effective exercise by many foreign nationals of the right to seek asylum. Government proposals to make further amendments to the law, greatly restricting access to the asylum determination process, risked violating the UN Refugee Convention. Domestic violence against women remained a significant problem.
In a report published in January, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) acknowledged that Switzerland had taken a number of steps to combat racism and intolerance but noted the lack of a comprehensive body of anti-discrimination legislation. It was concerned by "the rise in racism and discrimination towards black Africans" displayed "in public opinion, political and media discourse, and also in the behaviour of officials, notably the police". ECRI urged action to counter "a general stigmatisation of black Africans as being involved in the drug trade and in other illegal activities such as prostitution." It noted that the issue of asylum-seekers and refugees was also the subject of negative and hostile debate in public and political spheres, and that there were a number of problems in the field of asylum procedure.
Evidence emerged that the individual examination of asylum applications by federal authorities often lacked thoroughness.
Changes to the asylum law which came into force in April included reducing the period within which many asylum-seekers could appeal against the rejection of their initial asylum applications from 30 to five days. The amendment affected those whose initial applications were rejected automatically, without individual examination, on grounds that the authorities categorized their country of origin as safe for return. AI and other organizations working for refugees' human rights expressed concern that the amendment did not allow rejected asylum-seekers sufficient time to access appropriate legal advice and lodge an appeal.
Government proposals for further changes to the asylum law were under parliamentary discussion. In July the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees suggested that some were "focused on restricting access to the asylum procedure and to international protection, and risked running counter to the spirit and the letter of the 1951 Refugee Convention." It was particularly concerned that proposed restrictions on access to normal asylum procedures for people unable to submit valid travel or identity documents within 48 hours could lead to breaches of the UN Refugee Convention. In public statements made during a visit to Switzerland in December, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed concern that changes to asylum procedures were putting the rights of asylum-seekers at risk.
Police racism, ill-treatment and use of excessive force
There were regular reports of ill-treatment, often accompanied by racist abuse. Police accountability mechanisms were unsatisfactory and such abuses were often committed with impunity.
ECRI called for an end to what it identified as "clearly discriminatory police practices" such as carrying out identity checks, taking people into police custody, and carrying out body searches – often on the street, solely on the basis of skin colour. The government rejected the assertion that the police behaved in a racist, discriminatory and violent way towards minorities, in particular black Africans, but acknowledged that mistakes might sometimes occur.
Many detainees, including children, were denied fundamental safeguards against ill-treatment in police custody such as the right to have prompt access to a lawyer and to have relatives informed of their arrest.
More cantonal police forces acquired tasers (dart-firing, high-voltage stun guns). AI continued to raise concerns about the health risks associated with such weapons, as well as their potential for abuse.
Use of force during deportations
In November the government presented, for public consultation, a draft federal law regulating the use of means of restraint by police during deportations and during the transport of detainees ordered by a federal authority. The text largely reflected cross-cantonal guidelines for police on restraint methods to be used during forcible deportation operations, endorsed by the Conference of Directors of the Cantonal Justice and Police Departments in 2002. The Conference had requested legislation to regulate police restraint methods at the federal level. AI welcomed the text insofar as it aimed to make a number of essential safeguards for deportees legally binding, and viewed as particularly positive the banning of any police restraint methods restricting breathing, in view of recent deaths attributable to such methods. However, AI was concerned about certain aspects, in particular a provision allowing the use of electro-shock weapons including tasers. In December the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed concern about the use of tasers in the context of forcible deportations.
In December the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published the findings of a visit carried out in October 2003. The principal purpose of the visit was to assess the implementation of measures the CPT had previously recommended concerning procedures and restraint methods applied in the context of forcible deportation operations from Zürich-Kloten Airport. The CPT also reviewed the treatment of foreign nationals detained in the airport transit zone and airport Prison No 2 pending deportation.
The CPT noted "the considerable work" carried out by the authorities to implement its past recommendations. Nevertheless, it said it had gathered a number of allegations, mainly of racist insults, threats and occasional physical ill-treatment during body searches by police officers responsible for checking passports at the border. According to these allegations, such treatment was aimed at persuading foreign nationals to return voluntarily to their country of origin and not to enter Swiss territory or to lodge an asylum request in Switzerland. The CPT said that the most "worrying" allegations concerned physical violence inflicted in retaliation for aborted deportation operations. It formulated a number of recommendations to address such concerns, emphasizing, amongst other things, the need to remind police officers that allegations of ill-treatment would be investigated and, if proven, severely sanctioned; the importance of systematically offering a medical examination, on return to detention, to every foreigner following an aborted deportation operation; and of integration into the general police training programme of information concerning the risk of positional asphyxia during the physical restraint of recalcitrant people. Upon the report's publication, the Swiss authorities stated that they had already taken a number of measures to implement these and other recommendations made by the CPT.
There were further allegations of police using excessive and unwarranted force in the context of some demonstrations and inappropriately using police equipment designed to temporarily disable or incapacitate people. AI called for weapons firing projectiles such as rubber bullets and "markers" (plastic bullets containing paint and metal), tasers, and disabling chemical irritant gases not to be used in any canton without rigorous independent investigations into their potential for abuse and medical effects. AI also called for strict rules, in line with international standards, regulating the use of such weapons. In addition, AI urged that all officers engaged in direct interventions with the public during policing operations surrounding demonstrations prominently display some form of individual identification – such as a service number.
- Denise Chervet appealed against a magistrate's decision not to indict the police officer who fired a kinetic impact weapon at her, causing her permanent facial injury, following a demonstration in Geneva in March 2003, and called for him to be charged with causing serious bodily harm. In December a Geneva court endorsed the magistrate's decision but indicated that certain aspects of the shooting incident still needed clarification. A decision by the magistrate as to whether or not to pursue further investigation was awaited at the end of the year. The officer who authorized the use of the weapon was awaiting trial on a charge of causing bodily harm through negligence.
- In May the Geneva government published the report of the extra-parliamentary Commission of Inquiry established to investigate the general handling by Geneva cantonal authorities, including the police, of security and demonstrations surrounding the G8 Summit held in neighbouring France in June 2003. Dozens of people alleged police brutality and excessive and gratuitous use of force by police officers during the G8 demonstrations in and around Geneva, and at least 15 individuals lodged formal criminal complaints against the police. In June it was reported that the Geneva Attorney General had notified eight of them that the investigation into their complaint was being terminated without any further criminal action on the grounds that it was impossible to identify the officers involved.
The commission informed AI that it was not its task to investigate specific cases. Its eventual report made no specific mention of the allegations of police use of excessive force apart from recording that, according to certain testimony, "the principle of proportionality appears not always to have been respected" in the context of a demonstration held on 3 June. It made 52 recommendations to the authorities and other key actors involved in G8 events, including demonstration organizers. The recommendations concerning the police included the proposed creation of specialized police units to deal with such policing operations in future, in view of their complexity and frequency and current police lack of expertise. It also emphasized the principle of proportionality in policing, recommended the acquisition and management of police equipment in a coordinated manner across cantons and called for police officers to wear a service number during public order interventions.
Violence against women
Domestic violence remained prevalent. An amendment to the Swiss Penal Code allowed the authorities to prosecute crimes of domestic violence, including rape, without needing an official complaint from the victim. Legislation aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence and allowing police to ban offenders temporarily from the shared place of residence was introduced or in preparation in several cantons. Further protection measures were needed, including greater efforts to prosecute offenders, to provide an adequate number of refuges for victims, and to address the situation of foreign women whose permission to stay in Switzerland depended directly on continued marriage or cohabitation with their husband during the first three years of residence.