(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

There were further allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by police officers.

The findings of a visit of inspection carried out in February 1996 by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment were published in June, together with the federal government's interim response. The Committee examined the treatment of people held in various places of detention in the cantons of Bern, Geneva, Ticino, Valais, Vaud and Zurich.

The great majority of detainees interviewed indicated that they had been correctly treated by the police. However, the Committee stated that it had met "a certain number of people, in particular foreign nationals and people arrested in connection with drugs-related offences, who alleged having been subjected to ill-treatment, consisting mainly of insults, slaps and blows, by police officers at the time of arrest". It said that the delegation had also heard some isolated allegations of ill-treatment inflicted during police interrogation.

The Committee noted that the situation regarding the implementation of the core recommendations on safeguards against ill-treatment in police custody made following its first visit of inspection in 1991 had "scarcely developed". The Committee recommended that the Swiss authorities re-examine their position on these matters.

In November the UN Committee against Torture considered Switzerland's third periodic report on its implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It expressed concern about "frequent" allegations of ill-treatment by police and a lack of independent mechanisms for registering and investigating such allegations. It recommended the introduction of such mechanisms in all cantons. The Committee regretted the non-existence in some cantons of certain legal guarantees providing safeguards against ill-treatment for detainees in police custody, "especially for foreigners" . It recommended the harmonization of the 26 cantonal codes of penal procedure, "particularly with regard to the granting of fundamental guarantees" in police custody. It stressed the need to allow criminal suspects to contact a lawyer or their family and to be examined by an independent doctor, immediately after arrest, after each interrogation and before being brought before an investigating magistrate or being released. The Committee said it was "seriously concerned about the absence of appropriate reaction" by the competent authorities to complaints of police ill-treatment. It recommended that Switzerland pay "the greatest possible attention" to such cases so as to ensure the opening of investigations and, in proven cases, the imposition of adequate sanctions.

In March Switzerland ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

New allegations of police ill-treatment often concerned foreign nationals. Clement Nwankwo, a prominent Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, said that in April Geneva police officers stopped him on the street, without explanation. He stated that he presented his identity papers, as requested, but that police officers then kicked and punched him, racially abused him, beat him with their fists and batons, and put a baton across his neck, exerting such pressure that he lost consciousness. He claimed that after transfer to a police station he was slapped, forced to strip naked and then left in his underpants, handcuffed painfully to a table leg in an interview room, for around an hour. A medical certificate issued the day after his release, recording injuries to his wrists and left eye, stated that "in all probability" they could have been caused by the ill-treatment he alleged. He was released after about 72 hours' detention, after being tried under a summary procedure and found guilty of shoplifting and resisting the police. He entered a formal challenge against the conviction and was committed for full trial in June when he was acquitted of shoplifting, but again convicted of resisting the police. His appeal against the conviction was examined by a Geneva court in September. In December the court confirmed the conviction and Clement Nwankwo lodged an appeal with the Federal Court.

Following an administrative investigation into the alleged incidents, the Geneva cantonal authorities informed Clement Nwankwo that his "strong resistance" to arrest had led the police officers to use force. However, they apologized for "the conditions" of his detention in the interview room and promised sanctions against the officers concerned. Clement Nwankwo maintained all his allegations against the police and lodged a criminal complaint against them in July. It was still under consideration by the Geneva Prosecutor General at the end of the year.

There were delays in several judicial proceedings relating to alleged police ill-treatment. In September the Ticino cantonal authorities stated that investigations were still continuing into a criminal complaint lodged three years earlier by two Turkish Kurds. They alleged that Ticino police had punched and kicked them and beaten them with a chair during their detention in June 1994.

In March a Ticino court rejected an appeal lodged by Turkish Kurds Abuzer Tastan and Ali Doymaz against a ruling by the Procurator General. He had ruled that there were no grounds to prosecute Chiasso police officers whom the complainants had accused of ill-treating them in April 1995 (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997). In their appeal, Abuzer Tastan and Ali Doymaz protested that the procurator had closed his investigation without questioning or contacting them, and also without questioning the accused officers or their colleagues, or any of three possible witnesses. He had questioned only an interpreter who had assisted them during police interviews, but who had not been present at the time of the alleged incidents. In July the federal court rejected their appeal against the Ticino court's decision, but stated that it was not competent to examine their complaint that the procurator had not questioned them or corresponded directly with them

In July the Lugano Public Prosecutor stated that the allegations which A.S., an asylum-seeker from the Kosovo province of Yugoslavia, made in a complaint against Lugano police officers in January 1996 were unfounded (see Amnesty International Report 1997). A.S. had claimed that, following his arrest for theft, officers had ill-treated him, causing serious injuries described in medical certificates issued within hours of his release from police custody. He stated that police denied his requests for medical treatment and coerced him into signing a document written in Italian – a language he did not understand – withdrawing his asylum application. The prosecutor stated that it appeared that A.S. had tried to escape during questioning, slightly injuring a policewoman, and had assaulted other police officers who were obliged to use "coercive methods proportionate to the situation". The prosecutor did not comment on the apparent failure to provide A.S. with medical treatment during his detention or on the withdrawal of his asylum application, but said that, according to the police officers' statements, A.S. was not pressurized or threatened and made "no requests of any kind during his detention". She also indicated that on release A.S. was informed that the injured officer reserved the right to lodge a complaint against him for causing bodily harm.

In May the Geneva Procurator General informed Marc Guerrero that no further action would be taken on the complaint which he had lodged against Geneva police officers in March 1996, after his arrest for theft (see Amnesty International Report 1997). He had accused Geneva police officers of ill-treating him and depriving him of necessary medical assistance for several hours. The Procurator indicated that he agreed with the conclusions of the investigating magistrate that Marc Guerrero's allegations had been "contradicted by the inquiries carried out".

In June and September Amnesty International observers attended the court hearings in the case of Clement Nwankwo.

Amnesty International sought information from the authorities on the steps taken to investigate new allegations of ill-treatment and the outcome of inquiries opened into such allegations in previous years. In response the authorities provided information about the status of investigations and court proceedings: in some cases they stated that the allegations were unfounded or that injuries sustained by detainees were the result of police officers using the degree of force necessary to subdue a person violently resisting arrest

In November Amnesty International issued a report, Switzerland: Comments relating to the submission of the Third Periodic Report to the UN Committee against Torture, which described some of the organization's concerns about alleged ill-treatment by police as well as official initiatives aimed at strengthening safeguards against ill-treatment.

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