Head of state and government: Doris Leuthard
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 7.6 million
Life expectancy: 82.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/5 per 1,000

A National Human Rights Institution was established and a National Commission for the Prevention of Torture appointed to monitor detention facilities. A popular referendum amended the constitution to require the immediate deportation of foreign nationals convicted of certain criminal offences. Criminal law continued to lack a definition of torture consistent with international law.

Legal, constitutional and institutional developments

In September, the Federal Council established the Swiss Competence Centre for Human Rights as a national human rights institution, to begin its work in 2011. Human rights organizations welcomed the initiative, but were concerned about its lack of independence, resources and the limited role for cantonal authorities.

On 28 November, a referendum known as the "Deportation Initiative" was held seeking to amend the constitution to allow for the automatic deportation of foreign nationals convicted of specified criminal offences. It passed with a 52.9 per cent vote in favour. If implemented, such deportations, with no provision for the right to appeal, would violate Switzerland's obligations under international law.

On 10 December, Switzerland agreed to sign the International Convention against enforced disappearance.

Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants

From February onwards, the Federal Administrative Court suspended the return of several asylum-seekers to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation pending the Court's judgement in a lead case regarding such transfers. Despite this practice, the Federal Office for Migration transferred 50 asylum-seekers to Greece during the year.

In May, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern that the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals might violate the principle of non-refoulement. The law permits the automatic expulsion of foreign nationals considered to represent a security threat, with no opportunity for appeal. The Committee called for the legislation to be modified.

  • In July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Switzerland had violated the right to private and family life of two Ethiopian women asylum-seekers. They had been required to live in reception centres in different cantons from their husbands for five years while awaiting their removal to Ethiopia.

In November, the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns about the adequacy of reception facilities for asylum-seekers, which included accommodation in underground nuclear bunkers for indefinite periods.

Torture and other ill-treatment

On 1 January, the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture was appointed and started monitoring detention facilities and group deportations.

In May, the UN Committee against Torture noted that, while several acts amounting to torture were criminalized under domestic criminal law, legislation lacked a definition of torture consistent with international law.

Police and security forces

In May, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about allegations of excessive use of force by police during questioning, in particular of foreign nationals, and especially those of African origin. The Committee reiterated the need to establish an independent mechanism to investigate such complaints in each canton.

  • The UN Committee against Torture urged Switzerland to open an independent, impartial inquiry into the death of Joseph Ndukaku Chiakwa, a Nigerian national who died at Zurich airport in March during an attempted mass deportation. Eye-witnesses stated that the people facing deportation had been physically restrained, with plastic hand and ankle cuffs, helmets, and straps to secure their knees, waist and arms. A criminal investigation was pending at the end of the year.

Guantánamo Bay detainees

In January and March, the Federal Council confirmed the arrival of former detainees from US custody at Guantánamo Bay. An Uzbekistani man and two ethnic Uighurs from China were accepted by the cantons of Geneva and Jura respectively.

No final decision was taken by the authorities regarding asylum claims issued by three other Guantánamo Bay detainees in 2008. In November, the Federal Administrative Court overruled a decision by the Federal Office for Migration on one of the detainees, stating that the security assessment had been made without considering public documents from the US and without questioning the applicant.

Violence against women

The UN Committee against Torture and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in May and November respectively, recommended that Switzerland deal with impunity in cases of domestic violence. Recommendations included that the state specifically criminalize domestic violence, ensure that survivors are able to issue complaints without fear of reprisals, investigate allegations and prosecute perpetrators. Both Committees recommended modifying immigration legislation which had led migrant women to remain in abusive relationships due to fear of losing their residence permits.

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