In February a committee of experts appointed by the Federal Office of Justice published the findings of a preliminary study identifying the possible characteristics of a future code unifying all 26 cantonal codes of penal procedure. In the context of their concern about alleged police ill-treatment, both the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee against Torture had recommended in 1996 and 1997 respectively (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998) that Switzerland intensify efforts to harmonize the cantonal codes, particularly with regard to the granting of fundamental guarantees to detainees in police custody, including the introduction of a legal right for all detainees to inform relatives or a third party of their arrest and to have access to a lawyer from the moment of arrest. The study indicated support for the introduction of the former but not the latter. It was expected that the text of a draft code would be prepared by 2000.
In March the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, following its consideration of Switzerland's first periodic report, expressed concern about "serious incidents of police brutality in dealing with persons of foreign ethnic or national origin" and recommended more intensive training programs for law enforcement officials.
The text of a new Federal Constitution was adopted by parliament in December. It updated the 1874 Constitution, introducing reforms in the justice system and enhancing civil rights. The text, which included specific prohibitions on torture and all other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and on the return of any individual to a state where they would risk such treatment, was due to be put to a national referendum in April 1999.
Allegations of police ill-treatment came from several cantons and often concerned foreign nationals.
Judicial and administrative investigations were carried out into allegations made by Mamadou Sidibé, a national of Côte d'Ivoire, following his detention by Bern Municipal Police in December 1997 while on a holiday visit to relatives. In a criminal complaint lodged against the police at the end of that month he claimed that, while sightseeing in the city centre, two plainclothes police officers detained him on the street, without explanation, used unnecessary force to handcuff him, and racially abused him. He said that at the police station, when he asked for the reason for his arrest, the officers said it was because he was "black" and a "drug dealer", subjected him to further racial abuse, made him strip naked for a body search, slapped and repeatedly kicked and punched him, and threatened him with imprisonment and deportation as a drug dealer. His request to telephone his relatives was refused. He was released without charge the next day. According to a press statement issued by Bern Police four days later, the officers involved had been questioned and had made written statements and on the basis of these Mamadou Sidibé's allegations of ill-treatment and racial abuse could not be confirmed in any way at that time. He had been stopped in an area where the police were carrying out a check on African and Albanian drug dealers and taken to the police station for an identity check. Discrepancies had been found in his travel documents and he hadbeen detained because of the need for further inquiries. The Bern authorities subsequently stated that the judicial investigation into Mamadou Sidibé's allegations had not found grounds for any criminal or disciplinary action against the police.
In January the Geneva Prosecutor General dismissed a criminal complaint which Clement Nwankwo, a prominent Nigerian lawyer, had lodged against Geneva police (see Amnesty International Report 1998). He accused the police of assaulting him on the street and subjecting him to degrading treatment in a police station following his arrest in April 1997. The Prosecutor General acknowledged that, after being strip-searched, Clement Nwankwo had been "prevented for almost an hour from getting dressed again" and that this might be considered a criminal offence of abuse of authority. However, he concluded that disciplinary sanctions imposed on three officers following an administrative inquiry carried out in 1997 appeared to be sufficient punishment. The cantonal authorities had rejected Clement Nwankwo's allegations of physical assault, but had apologized for "the conditions" of his detention in the police station and promised sanctions against the officers concerned.
In his 1998 annual report, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture observed that "the facts in the Nwankwo case, where there was overwhelming evidence of abuse leading finally to some welcome disciplinary action against the law enforcement officials involved, suggest a judicial disposition precipitately and prematurely to believe the police and to disbelieve the foreign accused/complainant, as well as a reluctance to fully rectify the original wrong". The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, in his 1998 annual report, expressed concern about several aspects of the case and recommended that Clement Nwankwo be offered "adequate compensation" for the incorrect treatment already acknowledged by the authorities. In April the federal authorities informed the Special Rapporteur that in March the Supreme Court had rejected Clement Nwankwo's final appeal against his conviction for resisting the police at the time of arrest and that, as this had put an end to all judicial proceedings, the Geneva authorities would be able to examine the question of compensation as soon as possible. No compensation had been paid by the end of the year. In October Clement Nwankwo learned from press reports that the disciplinary sanctions against the three police officers had been annulled following appeals proceedings. The Geneva authorities had not informed him of the decision or of the reasoning behind it by the end of the year.
In October Clement Nwankwo lodged a petition against Switzerland with the European Commission of Human Rights claiming violation of two articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In November the Ticino cantonal authorities stated that criminal investigations opened into the formal complaint lodged against police officers by two Turkish Kurds in 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1998) had been definitively closed by the Public Prosecutor in November 1997. The Prosecutor had concluded that there was no concrete evidence to support the men's claims that they had been beaten by Lugano police or to prove completely, or to render it highly probable, that the injuries recorded in medical reports accompanying their complaint were the result of blows inflicted by the police. The injuries included a perforated ear-drum in one case and multiple contusions, bruising and the loss of two teeth in the other.
In November the Public Prosecutor confirmed that A.S., an asylum-seeker from the Kosovo province of Yugoslavia, was not directly questioned about his allegations of ill-treatment by Lugano police or given an opportunity to identify his alleged aggressors during the investigation of the formal complaint he had lodged following his detention in December 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1998). A.S. had sought the prosecution of unidentified officers on charges of serious bodily harm, failure to provide medical assistance and abuse of authority. In July 1997 the Prosecutor had stated that, after investigation, there was no reason to doubt the veracity of the police version of events rejecting A.S.'s allegations. In November the Ticino Prosecutor General ruled that there were no grounds to pursue criminal proceedings as a result of A.S.'s complaint. He concluded that there was insufficient evidence of abuse of authority and, although recognizing that A.S. had sustained injuries and had received no medical assistance, found no proof of deliberate failure to provide assistance. He said that A.S.'s injuries, which police claimed had been incurred during an escape attempt, did not qualify as serious bodily harm under the penal code, but as mere bodily harm. Unlike the former offence, which could be pursued on the Prosecutor's own authority, the latter required the alleged victim to seek prosecution. However, in March A.S. had withdrawn from the prosecution and this alleged offence could not now be considered for prosecution.
In November the Ticino judicial authorities also reported that they had informed the Federal Office of Police that a request in A.S.'s name, withdrawing his asylum application, had been made during his police interrogation when he had no access to an interpreter, lawyer or magistrate. A.S. claimed police coerced him into signing the document, whose contents he had not understood.
In June Felipe Lourenço, a Brazilian national, lodged a criminal complaint against a guard at Champ-Dollon prison, Geneva, accusing the guard of causing him grievous bodily harm on the day of his admission to prison. Felipe Lourenço said that when the guard escorted him to a small cell, he began to feel claustrophobic and resisted the guard's efforts to make him enter, eventually going down on all fours. He alleged that the guard then threw him with force against a wall. After falling to the ground he realized that his arms and legs were paralyzed and asked the guard for help. He claimed that the guard then tried to force him into a sitting position and hit him, accusing him of faking injury, and that there was a delay of around two hours before he received any medical assistance.
He was transferred to a local hospital where he underwent an operation but hospital doctors reportedly stated that he had suffered irreversible damage to the spine, meaning that, at best, he might eventually recover the use of his arms: his breathing difficulties were due to a perforated lung.
In the following days the prison authorities stated that, according to the guard in question, Felipe Lourenço had incurred his injuries by suddenly throwing himself head first against a closed door, and that there was no undue delay in providing medical assistance. The judicial investigation into the case was still under way at the end of the year.
Amnesty International expressed concern about allegations of ill-treatment and sought information from the authorities on the progress and outcome of judicial and administrative investigations. Replies were received regarding the status of inquiries and court proceedings.
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