U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Switzerland

  Switzerland is a constitutional democracy with a federal structure. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral Parliament. Given the nation's linguistic and religious diversity, the Swiss political system emphasizes local and national political consensus and grants considerable autonomy to individual cantons. Police duties are primarily a responsibility of the individual cantons, which have their own distinct police forces. The national police authority has a coordinating role and relies on the cantons for actual law enforcement. Switzerland's free enterprise industrial and service economy, highly dependent on international trade, provides a very high standard of living. Although unemployment in 1993 reached unusually high levels, traditional labor peace persisted. Human rights are widely respected. The headquarters of major international human rights and humanitarian affairs organizations are located in Switzerland. In June Parliament ratified the 1965 U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, rightwing opponents are seeking to overturn the implementing legislation via a popular referendum. Switzerland has antiforeigner elements who express themselves through violence. There were a number of violent incidents in 1993, but fewer than in each of the 2 previous years.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of abductions or disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution proscribes such practices, and there were no reports of any violations. There were no reports of police beatings or other abuse.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile is provided by law. A detained person may not be held longer than 24 hours without a warrant of arrest issued by the magistrate conducting the preliminary investigation. A suspect must immediately be shown the warrant and has the right to contact legal counsel as soon as a warrant is issued. A suspect may be detained with a warrant until an investigation is completed, but the length of investigative detention is always reviewed by higher judicial authority, and investigations are typically completed quickly. Release on personal recognizance or bail is granted unless the examining magistrate believes the person is a danger to society or will not appear for trial. There is no summary exile, nor is exile used as a means of political control, although non-Swiss convicted of crimes may receive sentences which include denial of reentry for a specific period following completion of a prison sentence.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for public trials. All courts of first instance are cantonal courts, with right of appeal to the federal courts and freedom from interference by other branches of government. Minor cases are tried by a single judge, difficult cases by a panel of judges, and murder or other serious crimes by a public jury. Even the most serious cases are usually brought to trial within a few months. There are no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Police entry into the premises of a person suspected of a criminal offense is regulated by cantonal legislation. Regulations differ widely from canton to canton, but not, apparently, to the extent that they provide potential for abuse. There were no reports of abuse in 1993.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

An independent press, effective judiciary, and democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and press. Groups or associations determined to be a potential threat to the State may have restrictions placed on their freedom of speech and press. No groups were restricted during the year. Federal antiracism legislation, enacted in June, but not yet in force, would permit the Federal Government to place restrictions – including speech and press restraints – on groups engaging in or advocating racial discrimination. No groups are currently restricted. The new legislation is controversial and may be submitted to Swiss voters for approval – perhaps in mid-1994 – prior to its implementation. Most broadcast media are government-funded but possess editorial autonomy, and foreign broadcast media are freely available. Press and publishing are owned by private enterprises operated without government intervention. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The only restriction on peaceful assembly and association is a requirement to obtain permits from police authorities before holding public meetings. These are routinely granted unless authorities have reason to believe the meeting will lead to violence.

c. Freedom of Religion

Switzerland enjoys religious freedom. There is no single state church, but individual cantons may support a particular church out of public funds, and most cantons do. Foreign clergy are free to perform their duties. The degree to which minority religious communities are explicitly recognized in law varies among the cantons. Most cantons do not accord Jewish and other non-Christian religious communities the specific legal recognition and tax privileges enjoyed by the Catholic and Protestant churches. The legal requirement for universal male military service provides no exemption for conscientious objectors. They may apply for military service which does not entail bearing arms, but refusal to serve has nearly always led to prosecution and conviction. A 1991 law stipulates that refusal to serve is a punishable offense, but if the refusal stems from reasons of conscience, the prescribed sentence is a period of alternative community service – up to a maximum of 6 months (which entails no criminal record) – rather than prison. Those objecting to military service on grounds of conscience which are not recognized by the military tribunals – such as political grounds – and those failing to convince the tribunals that their refusal of military service is based on fundamental ethical values, continue to receive prison sentences and a criminal record. However, Swiss voters gave the Federal Government a mandate in May 1992 to draft a new law abolishing the distinction between these two categories. The legislation was still in preparation in late 1993.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Swiss citizens have freedom to travel in or outside the country and can emigrate without difficulty. Switzerland has traditionally been a haven for refugees, but public concern over the growing number of asylum seekers, many of whom apparently come for economic reasons, generated pressure on the Government to implement swifter processing of asylum seekers in 1992 and to expel more quickly those whose applications are rejected. These expedited procedures remained in effect for 1993. There were some violent attacks against asylum seekers in 1993, including three arson attempts against asylum residences. Fewer such attacks occurred, however, than in each of the 2 previous years. Refugees whose applications are rejected are allowed to stay temporarily if their home country is torn by war or insurrection.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Switzerland is a highly developed constitutional democracy. There is universal adult suffrage by secret ballot in federal elections. There is universal adult suffrage in cantonal elections as well, but a few half-cantons still retain the traditional "assembly of the people" style of voting by raising hands rather than by secret ballot. Elections are free and contested actively by four major national parties and at least a dozen significant regional or minor parties. Initiative and referendum procedures provide unusually intense popular involvement in the legislative process. Participation by women in politics has been limited historically but continues to expand slowly. Most women who would participate at the top levels of national political life continued to face psychological, social, and economic barriers. However, gradual improvement has taken place. Although Swiss women have had the vote for only 22 years, they hold about 16 percent of the seats in Parliament. The Parliamentary Faction Leader of the Social Democrats, one of the four parties in the governing coalition, is a woman, six women serve on cantonal executive councils, the Department for Foreign Affairs has three female ambassadors, and a woman is General Secretary of the Federal Assembly, one of the highest offices in the government administration. In March Ruth Dreifuss was elected to the seven-member Federal Council (cabinet) and named Interior Minister. She is the second woman and first Jewish person to reach Switzerland's highest political level.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernment Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights advocacy groups in Switzerland concern themselves almost exclusively with lobbying the Swiss and other governments about the human rights situation in other countries. Switzerland cooperates with international bodies and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) in all areas of human rights. All major international human rights groups are active in Switzerland, and some of the leading ones, e.g., the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), are based there. The ICRC is made up of Swiss nationals, and Swiss play prominent roles in other humanitarian nongovernmental organizations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status


Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination against women in the work place, the Federal Government concluded in 1992 that additional measures, including better implementation of existing legislation, were necessary to ensure equal pay and other benefits for women. The Federal Minister of Justice proposed new legislation in February 1993 to implement more effectively constitutional prohibitions on discrimination against women. For example, this legislation would reverse the burden of proof from the complainant to the accused in workplace discrimination cases. The legislation is opposed, however, by some business interests and has not yet been considered by a parliamentary committee. It is not likely to be enacted soon. Several cases brought by women seeking equal pay with men under existing law were decided for the complainants by cantonal and federal courts in 1993. The Federal Commission for Women's Rights and several private groups, e.g., the Federation of Women's Organizations, monitor and promote women's rights. They have found that persistent discrimination has more social than legal causes. Nevertheless, a significant number of women in recent years have broken barriers in traditional male-dominated professions, such as medicine, law, and engineering, and the proportion of women to men in these professions has increased markedly over the last two decades. Women gained equality within the state pension program as a result of parliamentary legislation in June 1992. Married women are thereby entitled in their own right to half the benefits the couple receives and have the right to pay for a widower's benefit and make up any missed contributions for their husbands, as men can for their wives. In addition, divorced women are entitled to half the pension rights of a couple, calculated on the highest earnings in the marriage. Different treatment between men and women is most pronounced in the salaries and wages paid. Despite the statutory requirement of equal pay for equivalent work, women's wages for identical work lag an average of 16 percent behind those of men. The Government said in 1992 that it planned amendments to the law on sexual equality which would bar discrimination in employment, improve protection against dismissals, reverse the burden of proof in discrimination cases, and facilitate law suits by individual women against discriminatory employers, but no action was taken in 1993. The only female member of the Federal Council, who is also the Interior Minister, citing the paucity of women in high positions in the labor force, stated that an important goal will be to determine how to get more women into positions of responsibility. There is widespread agreement that violence against women is a significant problem. The Federation of Women's Organizations and other women's advocacy groups have heightened public consciousness. Each city has an emergency telephone number through which women who are victims of violence can obtain help and counseling, and special homes for abused women. Specialists work with police authorities to interview women who report attacks. Laws exist against wife beating and similar crimes. At year's end, it was not yet clear what effect these laws and an October 1992 change in the Penal Code, explicitly making spousal rape a criminal offense, would have on deterring violence against women. While the Penal Code is established at the federal level, enforcement is the responsibility of the cantons and variations occur.


Legislation on assistance for victims of violent crimes, which entered into force on January 1, 1993, addresses the protection of children from such abuses. The Swiss Association for the Protection of Children, an NGO, is active in monitoring and advocating childrens' rights. It advocates legislation to create and strengthen the rights of the children of foreigners, including seasonal workers. Regarding statutory rape, the Federal Council (Cabinet) proposed lowering the age of consent from 16 to 14, but this was rejected by Parliament. Instead, Parliament approved new legislation, which took effect in January 1993, requiring that a person accused of statutory rape must be at least 16 and more than 3 years older than the accuser.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Citizens comprising Italian and Romansch linguistic minorities (respectively about 5 and 1 percent of the population) continued to express concern that the limited resources made available to them by the Federal Government to support education and media endanger the intellectual vitality of these languages. In October 1992, the Federal Government withdrew legislation which would have made Romansch an official language. Citing the significant administrative costs of implementing such a measure, the Government held that preservation of language was basically a matter for individual cantons to address. Foreigners comprise about 18 percent of the population and 27 percent of the total work force. Residence permits are limited for foreigners; for example, foreign workers with seasonal stay permits are not allowed to bring their families. These limitations apply to all non-Swiss. Parliament approved the country's first federal legislation against racial discrimination, based on the 1965 U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in June. It would penalize race-motivated discrimination and hate speech. Previously, the cantonal governments had exclusive authority to handle racial discrimination cases. Rightwing groups began to collect signatures to bring the antiracism legislation to a national vote. There is no discrimination on religious grounds, but taxation privileges accorded to churches and religious groups vary according to cantonal practice. Although authorities suspect that arson caused the deaths of five asylum-seekers in 1992, they never issued a definitive conclusion about the fires, and no arrests were made. A Swiss man was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment in 1993 for a 1991 arson attack on an asylum residence in Thun in which there were no fatalities. Right-wing organizations, especially extremist organizations, represent only a small minority. There were sporadic violent attacks against foreigners or their property in 1993, including 3 fire- bombings. Although preliminary official figures show a significant decrease in attacks since 1991, statistics are not comprehensive, because some incidents are not reported or are ignored by police authorities. A 1993 report by state protection forces, commissioned by the Federal Council, concluded that past investigations were almost exclusively directed against leftwing organizations, ignoring any danger from the right. There is also evidence that some police may actually sympathize with rightwing groups. A Swiss journalist who wrote sympathetically about foreigners and documented attacks against them claimed to have been beaten and subjected to numerous threats of violence prior to relocating in another city.

People with Disabilities

An umbrella organization representing most disabled persons' rights associations is active politically. It is particularly involved in issues concerning the transport and mobility of disabled persons. It advocates the revision of federal legislation on insurance for the disabled, urging better social integration and professional training for them. The organization also favors a federal antidiscrimination law. The Federal Government has advocated physical accessibility to public buildings for the disabled, but no legislation has been enacted.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

All workers, including foreign workers in Switzerland, have freedom to associate freely, to join unions of their choice, and to select their own representatives. However, less than 15 percent of the country's labor force belongs to a union. The change from an industrial to a service-based economy, the high standard of living shared by a prosperous work force, and the Swiss system of referendums and initiatives (which accords citizens a voice on important political, social, and economic issues) are among the reasons for the lack of interest in union membership. Officials estimate that about 50 percent of all Swiss workers are covered by collective agreements. Unions are free to publicize their views and determine their own policies to represent members' interests without government interference. Unions may join federations or affiliate with international bodies. The Swiss Trade Union Federation belongs to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labor, as well as to the European Trade Union Confederation. The right to strike is legally recognized, but a unique informal labor peace agreement between unions and employers, in existence since the 1930's, has meant fewer than 20 strikes per year since 1975. There were no significant strikes in 1993. Federal employees and most cantonal and local employees do not have the right to strike. The only exception is the Canton of Jura, where both local and cantonal authorities have this right.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Swiss law gives workers the right to organize and bargain collectively and protects them from acts of antiunion discrimination. Employers found guilty of such discrimination are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activities but must pay an indemnity to the workers. The Government encourages voluntary negotiations between employer and worker organizations, although for the most part employers and workers alike (in common with most Swiss institutions) seek to exclude the Government from involvement in their affairs. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There is no forced or compulsory labor, although there is no specific statute or constitutional ban on it.

d. Minimum Wage for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment of children is 15 years. Children over 13 may be employed in light duties (e.g., helping in retail stores) for not more than 9 hours a week during the school year and 15 hours otherwise. Employment between ages 15 and 20 is strictly regulated. For example, youths may not work at night, on Sundays, or under hazardous or dangerous conditions. These laws are observed in practice and enforced through inspections by the Federal Office of Industry, Trades, and Labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. Employer associations and unions negotiate industrial wages during the collective bargaining process. Such wage agreements are also widely observed by nonunion establishments. The Labor Act established a maximum 45-hour workweek for blue- and white-collar workers in industry, services, and retail trades, and a 50-hour workweek for all other workers. The workweek for blue-collar workers in most industries is 43 hours and for white-collar workers 40 to 43 hours. Overtime is limited by law to 120 hours annually. The 1948 Labor Law bans night and Sunday work for women in industry. The economy was until recently at or near full employment. The resulting take-home pay provides Swiss workers and their families with a very high standard of living. The Labor Act and the Federal Code of Obligations contain extensive regulations to protect worker health and safety. The regulations are rigorously enforced by the Federal Office of Industry, Trades, and Labor, providing a high standard of worker health and safety. No explicit provision in Swiss law accords an employee the right to leave his place or work without prejudice in case of occupational hazard. Some have sought justification for such a right in more general principles of Swiss law, but this interpretation remains subject to considerable criticism and controversy. Swiss employees have the right to file a complaint with an appropriate governmental regulatory body against employers who fail to adhere to regulations on employee safety. The Government in 1993 continued to work on a complete revision of the Labor Law dating from 1948. There were no allegations of workers rights abuses from domestic or foreign sources.

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