U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Switzerland

    Switzerland is a constitutional democracy with a federal structure. The bicameral Parliament elects (from among its members or other persons) the seven members of the Federal Council, the highest executive body, whose presidency rotates annually. Because of the nation's linguistic and religious diversity, the Swiss political system emphasizes local and national political consensus, and grants considerable autonomy to the cantons. The Swiss armed forces are a militia based on universal military service for able-bodied males. There is virtually no standing army apart from training cadres and a few essential headquarters staff functions. Police duties are primarily a responsibility of the individual cantons, which have their own distinct police forces. The National Police Authority has a coordination role and relies on the cantons for actual law enforcement. Switzerland has a free enterprise industrial and service economy that is highly dependent on international trade. The standard of living is very high. The Government fully respects human rights. The electorate approved a new antiracism law in September which criminalizes racist or anti-Semitic actions and public speech, and ratifies the 1960 U.N. Convention Against Racism. However, there continued to be instances of violence against foreigners, and the Federal Government is investigating allegations of cantonal police mistreatment of detainees during previous years.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

The Constitution proscribes such practices, and there were no reports of violations. Amnesty International (AI) alleged in April that during 1992-93 there were 13 cases of minor violence against persons in cantonal police custody. Cantonal police forces publicly rejected all the allegations. The Government promptly launched an investigation, and in November published a detailed report that also rejected all the allegations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law provides for freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile. A suspect may not be held longer than 24 hours without a warrant issued by the investigative magistrate. A suspect has the right to choose and contact an attorney as soon as the warrant is issued; the State provides free counsel for indigents. Investigations are generally prompt. Release on personal recognizance or bail is granted unless the magistrate believes the person is dangerous or will not appear for trial. Any lengthy detention is subject to review by higher judicial authorities. Some foreigners were held in lengthy detention while awaiting trial. There is no summary exile, nor is exile used as a mean of political control. Non-Swiss convicted of crimes may receive sentences which include denial of reentry for a specified period following completion of a prison sentence.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent of the other branches of government, and is free of interference from them at both the federal and the cantonal levels. The Constitution provides for public trials in which the defendant's rights are fully respected, including the right to challenge and to present witnesses or evidence. All courts of first instance are local or cantonal courts. Minor cases are tried by a single judge, difficult cases by a panel of judges, and serious crimes (such as murder) by a public jury. Trials are usually held expeditiously. Citizens have the right to appeal to the federal court. There are no political prisoners.

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

Cantonal laws regulate police entry into private premises. These laws differ widely from canton to canton, but all prohibit arbitrary intrusion. There were no reports of violations of these rights.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press; an effective judiciary and democratic political system, along with an independent press, combine to ensure this is fully implemented. The authorities may legally restrict these freedoms for groups deemed to be a threat to the State, but no groups were restricted during the year. The new antiracism law criminalizes racist or anti-Semitic expression whether in public speech or in printed material. Most broadcast media are government-funded (the exceptions are small-scale experimental programs), but enjoy editorial autonomy. Foreign broadcasts are freely accessible. Private press and publishing operate without government hindrance. The Government fully respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The only restriction on peaceful assembly and association is a requirement to obtain a permit from police before holding any public meeting. The authorities routinely grant permits unless they have reason to believe a meeting would lead to violence.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for complete freedom of religion, and the authorities do not hamper the teaching or practice of any faith. There is no single state church, but most cantons support one or another church out of public funds. A taxpayer may opt out of contributing to church funding in any canton.

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

Under the Constitution and the law, citizens are free to travel in or outside the country, to emigrate, and to repatriate. Switzerland has traditionally been a haven for refugees, but public concern over the high number of asylum seekers induced the Government to legislate emergency measures for swifter processing and, for rejected applicants, swifter expulsion; the Government promptly began implementing these measures, and in December it extended them through 1996. Still, the Government continues to give asylum seekers orderly consideration. It cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Refugees whose applications are rejected are allowed to stay temporarily if their home country is torn by war or insurrection. Through August (latest data), 1,165 rejected asylum seekers were deported to their country of origin.

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

Suffrage is universal for citizens over age 17, and balloting is secret. Local, cantonal, and federal elections are free and are contested actively by a variety of parties. Frequent use of initiative and referendum procedures provide additional means for popular involvement in the legislative process. Women were disfranchised until 1971, but since then their participation in politics has unabatedly expanded. Women occupy 41 of the 246 seats in the Parliament, 1 of the 7 in the Federal Council, and a record 9 in cantonal government executive bodies.

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

Local human rights advocacy groups concern themselves almost exclusively with lobbying the Swiss and other governments about the human rights situation in other countries. All major international human rights groups are active in Switzerland.

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


Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination against women in the workplace, this problem persists, and the Government has only recently started to take effective action against it. While in recent years significant numbers of women have entered traditionally male-dominated professions (such as medicine, law, and engineering), women generally do not receive equal pay for equal work; studies indicate women's earnings average 15 percent less than those of men. Various laws continue to discriminate against women; however, in 1994 Parliament passed legislation improving the treatment of women regarding health insurance and government pensions. In addition, it began work on amending the Labor Law so as to abolish provisions that ban women (except in a few fields, such as nursing) from working at night or on Sundays. In recent years policymakers have become more concerned about violence against women. While there are no reliable data on this topic, indications are that a problem exists and that many cases go unreported. The Federation of Women's Organizations and other groups have heightened public awareness of this issue. Every city maintains a telephone hot-line, through which female victims of violence can obtain help and counseling, and shelters for battered wives. Specialists, working with police, regularly interview women who report attacks. The law prohibits wife beating and similar offenses, and a change in the Penal Code in 1992 explicitly made spousal rape a crime. The authorities effectively enforce these laws. The Penal Code also criminalizes sexual exploitation and trafficking in women.


The Federal and cantonal governments, as well as organizations defending children's rights, in recent years have devoted considerable attention to possible abuses against children, sexual abuses in particular. For convicted perpetrators of the latter, the law mandates imprisonment for up to 15 years. In June the Government approved the 1988 U.N. Convention on the Rights of a Child, and transmitted the draft bill to Parliament for ratification, albeit with some formal reservations regarding the Convention's provisions for the rights of children to naturalization and the rights of seasonal workers to be accompanied by their families.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Italian and Romansch languages may not long thrive in Switzerland, according to members of those communities, if the Federal Government does not increase its limited funding for education and media in them. The Federal Government regards preservation of languages as a responsibility of the cantons. In a referendum in September, voters approved inclusion of an antiracism article in both the Penal and the Military Code. This article is the nation's first law that seeks to prevent racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination before it occurs. The law also ratifies the 1960 U.N. Convention against Racial Discrimination. Reported attacks against foreigners were less frequent than in the 3 previous years--during the first 7 months of 1994 (latest data), 5 attacks were registered, a drop from 9 during the same period of 1993. Officials effectively investigate racist attacks, and in most cases these lead to arrest and trial of the perpetrators. Convictions carry a sentence of at least 1 year in prison.

People with Disabilities

The Government has not mandated that buildings, government services, or transportation facilities be made accessible to people with disabilities. An umbrella organization actively lobbies on behalf of most associations defending the rights of the disabled; in 1994 it persuaded the Government to cease requiring disabled men to pay the tax imposed on men who have not accomplished their military duty.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

All workers, including foreigners, are free to associate, to join unions of their choice, and to select their own representatives. The Government does not hamper the exercise of these rights. Unions are independent of the Government and political parties. The right to strike is legally recognized and freely exercised. Strikes are infrequent, however; in 1994 there was only one. The law prohibits retribution against strikers or their leaders. Unions can and do freely affiliate with international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

By law, workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law protects them from antiunion discrimination. The Government fully respects these provisions. Periodic negotiations between employer and worker organizations determine wages and other labor matters at the national and local levels. Nonunion firms generally adopt the terms and conditions fixed in the unions' collective bargaining agreements. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although there is no specific constitutional or statutory ban on forced or compulsory labor, it does not occur.

d. Minimum Wage for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment of children is 15 years. Children of age 13 or 14 may be employed in light duties for not more than 9 hours a week during the school year, and for 15 hours otherwise. Employment of youths between ages 15 and 20 is strictly regulated; they cannot work at night, on Sundays, or under hazardous conditions. The Federal Office for Industry, Trade, and Labor effectively enforces the law on working conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. The lowest wages fixed in collective bargaining agreements are generally adequate to provide a decent standard of living for workers and their families. The Labor Act sets a maximum 45-hour workweek for both blue- and white-collar workers in industry, services, and retail trades, and a 50-hour workweek for all other workers. The law requires a rest period during the workweek, and limits overtime to 120 hours annually. The Labor Act and the Federal Code of Obligations extensively provide for protection of worker health and safety. The Federal Office of Industry, Trades, and Labor rigorously enforces these provisions. The Government is currently overhauling the 1948 Labor Law, in part to strengthen provisions for workers' health and safety. A worker may opt out of a dangerous assignment, without penalty.

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