U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Switzerland

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2004

Switzerland is a constitutional democracy with a federal structure. The bicameral Parliament elects the seven members of the "Federal Council" (Swiss cabinet), the highest executive body, whose presidency rotates annually. Due to the nation's linguistic and religious diversity, the political system emphasizes local and national political consensus and grants considerable autonomy to the 26 individual cantons (states). The Parliament was elected on October 19, allowing the Government to remain a grand coalition of the four major parties. A new Constitution took effect in 2000. The judiciary is independent.

The armed forces were a civilian-controlled militia based on universal military service for able-bodied males. There was virtually no standing army apart from training cadres and a few essential headquarters staff. Police duties were primarily a responsibility of the individual cantons, which had their own police forces that were under effective civilian control. There were allegations that a few members of the police forces committed human rights abuses.

A highly developed free enterprise, industrial, and service economy strongly dependent on international trade allowed for a high standard of living for the country's 7.3 million residents.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; although there were some problems, the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. Cantonal police were involved in at least one death during the year. Police occasionally used excessive force, particularly against foreigners and asylum seekers. There continued to be reports of discrimination against foreigners. Trafficking of women and children for prostitution continued to be a problem, which the Government took steps to address.


1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no political killings. In October, a 30-year-old citizen with mental disabilities died in the Canton of Lucerne after a fight with police who were taking him into preventive custody. He allegedly became unconscious after a physician gave him a tranquilizer shot. Local authorities continued the investigation at year's end.

On May 30, a Bern criminal court judge acquitted four Bernese police officials, two charged with negligent manslaughter and two charged with attempted grievous bodily harm, for their role in the violent death of Cemal Gomec in 2001. The judge ruled that at the moment of his apprehension by police, Gomec constituted a threat to both himself and others and that police action was circumspect and proportionate. The Bern cantonal prosecutor-general has decided to appeal the acquittal of the two officials charged with negligent manslaughter but dropped charges against the other two.

In June, a Zurich policeman was sentenced to a 3-month suspended prison sentence for negligent manslaughter for killing a 72-year-old pedestrian in 2002 while maneuvering a police car.

Authorities have concluded their investigation into two police officers from Basel who shot and killed Michael Hercouet in 2001 just over the border in France. One officer was scheduled to appear in court in early 2004.

On July 2, a Geneva court sentenced a Geneva policeman who fired at two French men driving a stolen car in 2000 to an 8-month suspended jail sentence. The court said that the use of the weapon was disproportionate and that the life of the policeman had not been put at risk.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that police occasionally used excessive force, particularly against foreigners. During the year, the NGO Eyes Open (Augenauf) filed a complaint against police officers in Glarus canton over alleged police brutality during night-time raids in July on asylum seekers in their homes. The group alleged that heavily armed police stormed the buildings, bound the residents' hands and feet, and made them wait for hours before photographing them naked. In response to Amnesty International (AI) and the Swiss Red Cross's requests for an investigation, Glarus police filed a self-accusation for alleged misconduct. In December, an out-of-canton prosecutor-general, contracted by Glarus judicial authorities, concluded that some police action was disproportionate, but the criminal investigation against the head of the Glarus criminal police for alleged brutality was discontinued.

In 1999, the Canton of Geneva stated there were 715 reported cases of the use of force by police, 33 of which resulted in formal complaints. A 2001 U.N. Human Rights Committee report cited concern and called for effective responses to reported instances of police brutality during arrests and detentions, particularly of foreigners.

In June, a Zurich district attorney dropped the charges of deliberate physical injury against a Zurich police officer who trapped Kurt von Allmen with his car, causing injuries and the amputation of his leg in 2002, but allowed his prosecution for acting negligently. Von Allmen appealed the district attorney's decision; a court ruling remained pending at year's end.

The investigation into a 2002 incident where Zurich police shot and seriously wounded an unarmed passerby while pursuing a burglar remained ongoing at year's end.

AI has called for a probe into suspected human rights violations by police during the violent anti-G8 protests in June (see Section 2.b.). The organization said it was concerned about reports of alleged police brutality against demonstrators.

Prison conditions generally met international standards. In response to past claims by NGOs that prisons were overcrowded, the Government has taken measures to improve prison conditions and addressed overcrowding by expanding the number of detention facilities. However, prison overcrowding in some areas remained a concern. Male and female prisoners were held separately and juveniles were held separately from adults. Pretrial detainees also were held separately from convicted criminals.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights observers and human rights groups regularly monitored prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions; however, some NGOs alleged that the authorities arbitrarily detained asylum seekers (see Section 2.d.).

The cantons are responsible for handling most criminal matters, and procedures vary from canton to canton. The Swiss Federal Police Office has a coordinating role and relies on the cantons for actual law enforcement. The Federal Attorney General in Bern oversees inter-cantonal and international crimes.

In major cities such as Zurich, Bern, and Basel as well as in some cantons, an ombudsman heard citizen's complaints about wrongful government action. Not every ombudsman could proactively investigate alleged abuses of government authority, but all accepted complaints from third parties. No ombudsman existed at the federal level. On July 9, the Zurich city council took note of a parliamentary commission report reviewing certain cases of alleged abuse of human rights by local police. The report concluded that the vast majority of law enforcement agents surveyed acted correctly, but that in five cases an excessive use of force occurred. The report included a list of approximately 40 recommendations to political authorities and local police.

In May, 24 cantonal police officers attended a 1-week special training program in Zurich designed to prevent suffocation accidents while deporting immigrants who resist deportation. The training program involved legal, psychological, and practical tools when undertaking a forceful deportation.

In general, a suspect may not be held longer than 48 hours without a warrant of arrest issued by an investigative magistrate; however, asylum seekers and foreigners without valid documents may be held for up to 96 hours without an arrest warrant. A suspect may be denied legal counsel at the time of detention but has the right to choose and contact an attorney by the time an arrest warrant is issued. The State provides free legal assistance for indigents who may be jailed pending trial.

Investigations generally were prompt; however, in some cases investigative detention may exceed the length of sentence. 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. During the year, approximately one-third of all prisoners were in pretrial detention, and the average length of such detention was 50 days.

The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and the Government did not employ it.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.

All courts of first instance are local or cantonal courts. Citizens have the right to appeal, ultimately to the Supreme Court. Trials involving minor offenses are heard by a single judge, more serious or complex cases by a panel of judges, and the most serious cases (including murder) by a jury.

The Military Penal Code (MPC) requires that all war crimes or violations of the Geneva Convention be prosecuted and tried in the country, regardless of where a crime was committed and whether the defendant was a member of an army or a civilian. Normal civilian rules of evidence and procedure apply in military trials. The MPC allows the appeal of any case. The highest level of appeal is to the Military Supreme Court. In most cases, the accused used defense attorneys assigned by the courts. Any licensed attorney may serve as a military defense counselor. Under military law, the Government pays for defense costs.

The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials usually were expeditious. The Constitution provides for public trials, including the right to challenge and to present witnesses or evidence.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

Cantonal laws regulate police entry into private premises. These regulations differ widely from canton to canton, but all prohibit such practices without a warrant, and all government authorities generally respected these provisions in practice.

The law on telecommunication surveillance restricts wiretapping and the monitoring of emails to persons suspected of serious crimes. The legislation includes a list of offenses deemed serious enough to permit wiretapping, including money laundering, terrorism, and corporate crime. In the past, wiretapping could be used to monitor relatively minor crimes.

Instances of forced sterilization of women continued to be the subject of public debate during the year. There is no comprehensive law against forced sterilization of women at the federal level because medical treatment is a cantonal matter. A draft bill was discussed in Parliament during the year; if passed, the law would allow sterilization only under strict conditions. The Government rejected proposals that it should pay financial compensation to victims of forced sterilizations and castrations. Such practices were used up to the 1970s primarily on young women of low social standing or with mental illnesses.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected this right in practice; however, some municipalities restricted the public distribution of pamphlets, particularly by Scientologists (see Section 2.c.). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom. The authorities legally may restrict these freedoms for groups deemed to be a threat to the State, but no groups were restricted during the year. In addition, the Penal Code criminalizes racist or anti-Semitic expression, whether in public speech or in printed material.

The press operated independently and was free from government intervention. The Federal Government subsidized the press indirectly by paying $74 million (100 million Swiss francs) yearly to lower the postal rates for newspaper distribution.

The nationwide broadcast media were government-funded but had editorial autonomy. Private and foreign broadcast media operated freely.

On September 1, the Zurich prosecutor's office charged Frank Lubke, president of the David Centre Against Anti-Semitism in Zurich, with violating the anti-racism law. Lubke wrote an open letter to government officials and the press in November 2002 following the terrorist attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, which contained harsh words against the Islamic religion. The trial originally scheduled for December was postponed.

The Zurich public prosecutor closed a 2002 investigation initiated by the Swiss Federal Police against the Kosovo-Albanian newspaper Bota Sot for an alleged violation of the anti-racism law without bringing charges.

Internet access was available and unrestricted. In January, the Federal Office for Police set up a Coordination Unit for Cybercrime Control (Cycos) in an effort to combat child pornography on the Internet (see Section 5).

On February 5, the Geneva Cantonal Government confirmed its decision to dismiss public school teacher Hani Ramadan, a Muslim cleric, after a closed hearing. Ramadan had already been suspended from teaching since October 2002 after he expressed support for the stoning of adulterers as set out in Shari'a law in an interview with a French newspaper. The president of the Geneva canton publicly stated that the justification of stoning was against the values of the Geneva canton, adding that Ramadan had already been warned twice in writing during the previous years.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.

In April, the police commander in Geneva was forced to resign after a paint ball injured a demonstrator during a violent protest against the World Trade Organization. The Geneva cantonal authorities, which later banned the use of paint bullets, said the commander's position had become untenable after it took police days to address the incident. A set of administrative inquiries cleared two policemen implicated in the incident from blame, but the cantonal government in November called for additional investigations. Geneva prosecuting authorities have launched a parallel criminal investigation of the case and were pressing charges for negligent bodily harm against one police officer.

AI has called for a probe into suspected human rights violations by police during the violent anti-G8 protests in June. The organization said it was concerned about reports of alleged police brutality against demonstrators. AI also alleged that several protesters have been denied basic rights while in detention.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There is no official state church; however, all of the cantons financially support at least one of three traditional denominations – Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Protestant – with funds collected through taxation. Each canton has its own regulations regarding the relationship between church and state. In November, voters in Zurich rejected an amendment to the cantonal constitution that would have provided for the recognition of nontraditional religious communities and allowed them to levy a tax on their members and to receive public funds.

On April 28, the Swiss Federal Court (Supreme Court) ruled that it was constitutional to refuse a license to run a private school to a body affiliated with the Church of Scientology, because of the latter's controversial nature, a stance the Court had already taken previously in 1993 and 1996. The Federal Court thus upheld a decision of the Lucerne cantonal government to close a private primary school run by a woman formally associated with the Church of Scientology.

Groups of foreign origin are free to proselytize. Foreign missionaries must obtain a religious worker visa to work in the country. Such permits were granted routinely and without any bias against any particular religion. In May, the Valais cantonal government upheld the 2002 rejection of a residency permit for Macedonian Imam Sevgani Asanoski, on the grounds that his religious education was too radical and potentially endangered the religious peace among different Muslim communities in the country.

According to the 2001 Swiss National Security Report, as of December 2001, there had been 183 cases brought to court under the 1995 anti-racism law, with 83 convictions. Of those, 43 persons were convicted for racist oral or written slurs, 19 for anti-Semitism, 17 for revisionism, and 4 for other reasons. Government officials have spoken frequently and publicly against anti-Semitism.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights for citizens, and the Government generally respected them in practice. However, non-citizens convicted of crimes may receive sentences that include denial of reentry for a specific period following the completion of a prison sentence.

The law contains provisions for the granting of refugee and asylum status to persons who meet the definition in the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In practice, the Government provided some protection against refoulement and granted refugee status and asylum. The Federal Office for Refugees estimated the total number of asylum applicants and temporary residents living in the country during the year to be 90,468, a decrease of 3.5 percent from 93,741 in 2002. This number included recognized refugees and persons granted temporary asylum, as well as persons who had an asylum application pending, had appealed a rejection, or were awaiting repatriation. New applications for asylum dropped by 20.4 percent, from 26,125 in 2002 to 20,806 during the year. The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.

The Federal Office for Refugees reported 5,110 cases of forced repatriations during the year, while 3,436 refugees left on a voluntary basis. The Government denied having forced persons to return to countries where they had a well-founded fear of persecution and insisted that each case be examined carefully; however, NGOs accused the Government of expelling rejected asylum seekers in some cases when conditions in their native countries remained unfavorable. Refugees whose applications were rejected were allowed to stay temporarily if their lives were likely to be exposed to political repression, or because of a war situation in their country or origin.

The 1999 asylum law provides for the collective admission of victims of violence and authorizes the Swiss Cabinet to grant them temporary protective status. It also simplifies and accelerates the process of applying for asylum. At the same time, the law is designed to curtail the misuse of asylum regulations and enable the more rapid repatriation of uncooperative refugees or those who enter the country without identity papers. The Government may refuse to process the application of an asylum seeker who is unable to credibly justify a lack of identity papers. In such a case, the applicant must submit an appeal to reactivate consideration of the application within 24 hours. NGOs contended that such a short time period did not constitute an effective remedy and therefore violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

In June, the Federal Refugee Office published a list of approximately 40 "safe countries" of origin, which will serve as a basis to limit increasing asylum requests. Beginning August 1, asylum applicants from countries now deemed "safe" in terms of human rights no longer enjoyed refugee status. The Federal Refugee Office said that the list, which is expected to be updated regularly, is aimed at shortening the time to process asylum requests, and that a decision would then be possible within a matter of days. In 2002, nationals from these "safe countries" filed 11 percent of all recorded asylum requests. The authorities have stated they hope this will prevent more influx of groups like Roma, who illegally entered Switzerland from France during the second half of 2002 before being sent back to Romania. The Refugee Office responded to NGOs' concerns that the "safe country" criteria was arbitrary by publicly stating that some applicants from the "safe countries" would be allowed to remain in the country if they are "threatened by the mafia, if their home country cannot protect them, or if a woman was the victim of rape."

The Government agreed to slow the flow of repatriations during the winter of 2000-2001 after former U.N. Special Representative to Kosovo Bernard Kouchner claimed that some areas of Kosovo were then unsafe. Approximately 740 Kosovars nevertheless were repatriated during the year. In 2002, the Federal Department for Refugees initiated voluntary repatriations for Macedonians.

After the Federal Office of Refugees declared the situation in the southern part of Sri Lanka safe, they initiated repatriation of 130,000 Sri Lankan refugees. The NGO Swiss Association for Refugees stated that it regretted the decision and feared some refugees would be sent back to areas in which war was ongoing. During the year, there were 51 forced repatriations, while 104 refugees left voluntarily. In total, there were 7,019 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka living in the country during the year.

In October 2002, federal authorities rejected the asylum applications of dozens of Roma from Romania who arrived in the country during the year. On October 9 and 10, 2002, the authorities deported 211 Roma to Romania. Roma asylum applications increased from 33 in 2001, to 968 in 2002.

Some human rights NGOs charged the authorities with abuses in connection with the implementation of a 1995 amendment to the Law on Foreigners. The amendment is aimed at asylum seekers or foreigners who live illegally in the country and who are suspected of disturbing the public order or avoiding repatriation. In particular, these groups have alleged instances of abuse by police, including arbitrary detention as well as denial of access to established asylum procedures at the country's two main airports (see Section 1.c.).

NGOs also alleged that police officers used the law to detain or harass asylum seekers who were not suspected of having disturbed public order. Under the law, police actions are subject to judicial oversight, and the Federal Court overturned many cases in which it believed that there was insufficient regard for the rights of asylum seekers and foreigners. NGOs also acknowledged that asylum seekers had better access to legal counseling at the airport, but not to legal representation. Without legal representation, would-be asylum seekers often were unable to appeal a rejection of their asylum request within the 24-hour time limit.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. Initiative and referendum procedures provide unusually intense popular involvement in the legislative process. A new Constitution took effect in January 2000. In October, the electorate chose a new federal parliament. Elections were free and fair, and parties and candidates could nominate themselves freely.

In the run up to the October elections, UNHCR expressed concern about anti-asylum advertisements by a major political party; the Swiss People's Party, campaigning on a right-populist, law and order platform, received nearly 27 percent of the vote.

In the October federal elections, women won 61 seats in the 246-seat Federal Parliament, a slight increase over the 55 seats in 1999. Two ministers in the 7-seat Swiss cabinet were women. However, in new cabinet elections held on December 10, the Federal Parliament did not re-elect the Justice Minister, whose party had shrunk in size, leaving the executive with only one woman, the Foreign Minister. At the cantonal level, the proportion of women representatives in legislatures has been steady at around 24 percent in recent years. Women held approximately one-fifth of the seats in cantonal executive bodies. In April, voters in Zurich elected a majority of women into the cantonal executive. Quotas existed at the Federal level and ensured that males or females were not underrepresented in extra-parliamentary commissions; the minimum level of representation for women was 30 percent.

4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A large number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

In 2002, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) handed down four rulings involving the Government. In two cases, the ECHR established a violation of the European Convention for Human Rights: One concerned an excessively long judicial procedure before the Federal Court, the other the right of a defendant to obtain a record of all depositions made before court.

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

The Constitution and laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, language, or social status, and the Government generally enforced these prohibitions effectively, although some laws tend to discriminate against women. The Constitution includes provisions for equal rights for persons with disabilities and for minorities.


Violence against women was a problem. The law prohibits domestic violence but does not differentiate between acts of violence committed against men and women. According to a 1997 government-funded study on domestic violence, one-fifth of all women suffered at least once in their lifetimes from physical or sexual violence, and approximately 40 percent suffered from psychological or verbal abuse. A 1998 study estimated that over 100,000 cases of domestic violence occurred each year.

A 2002 report of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women welcomed a series of legal amendments over the previous years, but urged the Swiss cabinet to take steps against the rigid perceptions of men and women, and to increase the awareness of the U.N. convention among jurists, judges, and members of parliament so that they can better serve women's interests in court. The Committee then recommended that the Government intensify its efforts to address the issue of violence against women, including domestic violence, as an infringement of their human rights. In particular, it urged the Government to adopt laws and implement policies in order to prevent violence against women, provide protection, support and services to the victims, and punish and rehabilitate the offenders.

Spousal rape is a crime. The difficulty in gathering information about the number of persons prosecuted, convicted, or otherwise punished for spousal abuse stems in part from the fact that legal cases were handled by each canton, and data often were not up-to-date. However, some cantonal or district police forces have specially trained units to deal with violence against women. A total of 372 men were prosecuted for 484 rape offenses involving 471 victims during 2002.

Victims of domestic violence may obtain help, counseling, and legal assistance from specialized government and NGO agencies or from nearly a dozen hotlines sponsored privately or by local, cantonal, and national authorities. There were 989 women in 17 women's shelters across the country during 2002. Those in charge of the shelters estimated that nearly as many women were denied access due to a lack of space and limited funding. The Federation of Women's Organizations and numerous other women's NGOs continued their activities to heighten public awareness of the problem of violence against women.

In October, Parliament adopted a revision of the Penal Code making grievous forms of domestic violence, including sexual assault and rape, a statutory offense. Experts welcomed this revision since battered women were often unlikely to pursue a case through the courts because of the emotional and psychological ties they have to an abusive partner, and the fear of reprisals. The revision is scheduled to take effect in 2004. police said they deal with approximately 10,000 incidents of domestic violence each year, but only 10 percent of cases ever reach the courts. In May, a new special unit dealing with violence against women started operating within the Interior Ministry's Federal Office for Equality Between Women and Men.

In two cantons, Sankt Gallen and Appenzell, police have the authority to temporarily ban abusive men from reentering the family premises. In April, authorities launched a zero-tolerance campaign to encourage more victims and witnesses of abuse to seek help more quickly. The Crime Prevention Center, which brings together all of the countries' cantonal police forces, also aims to teach officers the best ways of intervening in cases of domestic violence. The project has already provided a domestic violence "checklist" for cantonal police, which sets out a list of best practice guidelines.

Prostitution is legal for citizens if the practitioners are registered with police and comply with taxation and other cantonal requirements. However, street prostitution remains illegal, except in certain areas specifically designated by local authorities. Every major city has such designated areas. In 2002, 467 new prostitutes were registered in Zurich, an increase of more than a third on the previous year, bringing the total number of legal prostitutes up to approximately 3,000. Prostitution by foreigners is illegal. The number of unregistered prostitutes is difficult to estimate, but police arrested more than 300 women in 2002.

The Penal Code criminalizes sexual exploitation and trafficking in women; however, trafficking in women remained a problem (see Section 6.f.).

Instances of forced sterilization of women continued to be the subject of public debate during the year (see Section 1.f.).

Sexual harassment in the workplace occurred, but was limited. The law includes provisions aimed at eliminating sexual harassment and facilitating access to legal remedies for those who claim discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

Although the Constitution prohibits all types of discrimination, and the law provides for equal rights, equal treatment, and equivalent wages for men and women, some laws continued to discriminate against women. A federal marriage law provides that in the event of a divorce, assets accumulated during the marriage will be divided equally; however, the Supreme Court ruled that the primary wage earner must be left with sufficient income to remain above the poverty level. Since the man was the primary wage earner in most marriages, when the income was too low to support both parties, it was usually the wife (and children) who was forced to survive on public assistance. Statistics from 1999 showed that nearly 70 percent of women who did not work outside the home while married fell below the poverty line immediately after a divorce. Although mandated by a constitutional amendment in 1945, no federal law on maternity insurance exists.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern in a 2002 report that there is no definition in domestic law of discrimination against women and that differentiated treatment of women and men is permissible in cases where equality of treatment is ruled out by biological or "functional" differences. As a result, the Swiss cabinet has mandated the Interior Ministry to translate these recommendations into facts.

Immigrant women who marry Swiss husbands, but live in the country for less than 5 years risk deportation if they divorce their spouse. The 5-year residency requirement may be reduced to 3 years under exceptional circumstances. NGOs argued that this prevented women with marital problems from being able to seek help or leave their husbands without serious consequences. Varying police practices in different cantons sometimes took into consideration such factors as the country of origin, education, and income levels of the immigrant women. Their registered purpose for being in the country was to stay with spouse until they received their own long-term residency permits.

The law includes a general prohibition on gender-based discrimination and incorporates the principle of equal wages for equal work; however, professional differences between men and women were evident. Women less often occupied jobs with significant responsibilities, and women's professional stature overall was lower than men's. Women also were promoted less than men. According to a government study, women's gross salaries were 20.7 percent lower than men's in 2002.

The labor law prohibits women from working in the first 8 weeks after giving birth, but no federal provision for maternity leave exists. The law does not provide for compensation; however, between 70 and 80 percent of working women have negotiated maternity benefits with their employers. Many private sector and most public sector employers voluntarily grant new mothers a paid leave of absence, commonly between 3 and 16 weeks. In October, Parliament adopted new legislation granting working mothers a 14-week maternity leave at 80 percent of their salaries. In November, a group of fiscally conservative parliamentarians launched a referendum campaign against the law, which must be approved in a national vote scheduled for 2004.

The Federal Office for Equality Between Women and Men and the Federal Commission on Women work to eliminate all forms of direct and indirect discrimination. A federal-level interdepartmental working group continues to implement a 1999 action plan to improve the situation of women that includes measures that address poverty, decision-making, education, health, violence against women, the economy, human rights, the media, and the environment. To achieve its mission, the Federal Office for Equality Between Men and Women allocated $2.5 million (3.4 million Swiss francs) to 25 different projects. The office now employs about 20 persons. The Federal Office for Equality Between Women and Men started advertising campaigns this year to increase the representation of women in companies (known as "Fairplay-at-Work"), and promote better understanding between men and women in the family circle (known as "Fairplay-at-Home"). According to government statistics, women represent 53 percent of voters, but their political representation in both cantonal and federal governments and parliaments lagged behind at 25 percent.

Many cantons and some large cities have equality services mandated to handle gender issues. More than half of the cantons have an office in charge of promoting equality, but funding and personnel levels remained uneven. The majority of the cantons had commissions that reported to the cantonal government.


The Government has no special programs for children, and there is no special governmental office for children's matters; however, the Government was strongly committed to children's rights and welfare. It amply funded a system of public education and need-based subsidies of health insurance. Education was free and compulsory for 9 years, from age 6 or 7 through age 16 or 17, depending on the canton. Some cantons offered a 10th school year. Almost all children attended school. The Government subsidized the health insurance premiums of low-income families.

There was some abuse of children, although there was no societal pattern of such abuse. The federal and cantonal governments, as well as approximately 80 NGOs that defend children's rights, have devoted considerable attention in the last few years to child abuse, particularly sexual abuse. For convicted child sexual abusers, the law provides for imprisonment of up to 15 years. In 2002, new regulations of the statute of limitations for all crimes went into effect. For cases of child abuse, the statute of limitations has been extended to 15 years. In cases of severe sexual abuse, the statute does not take effect before the victim turns 25. If a court of first instance hands down a sentence before the stipulated time, the statute of limitations is suspended indefinitely.

With respect to the prosecution of child sexual abuse abroad, the law provides for prosecution in Switzerland only if the act is considered a crime in the country in which it took place. However, as part of the ongoing revision of the Penal Code, Parliament adopted a clause in December 2002 making such acts punishable regardless of where the crime took place. The revision is scheduled to take effect in 2004.

Under the law, the production, possession, distribution, or downloading of hardcore pornography from the Internet carries heavy fines or a maximum sentence of 1 year in prison. Any pornography involving children falls into this category; however, viewing child pornography on the Internet is not a criminal offence. During 2002, the police participated in large anti-pedophile operations called Operation Genesis, which involved the law enforcement agencies of several countries. Police authorities from all over the country investigated more than 1,000 allegations, questioned as many individuals, and confiscated many personal computers. By the end of July, Operation Genesis had produced over 600 first-instance court cases, resulting in 63 suspended prison sentences and 163 fines; over 400 cases remained pending. With tips from foreign law enforcement agencies, federal and cantonal police in September launched another coordinated campaign, searching the premises of 15 persons suspected of the possession and distribution of child pornography on the Internet.

In an effort to more effectively combat child pornography on the Internet, the Federal Police in January established the Cycos. Individuals who found pornographic material involving children were asked to contact the Federal Office via e-mail and, starting in April, Cycos began actively searching the Internet for suspicious content. According to police, Cycos handles approximately 500 complaints per month; by the end of July, 41 cases had been forwarded to cantonal prosecuting authorities. Half of the complaints related to pornographic content, mostly hardcore pornography involving children, animals, or violence. The police were able to take off certain content from some sites, but nevertheless failed to shut down any offending website.

In 2002, the Government signed a mutual legal assistance treaty in criminal matters with the Philippines that allows Philippine victims of Swiss pedophiles to give anonymous tips to Swiss authorities. The MLAT provides for the voluntary exchange of information short of a legal assistance request as well as the questioning of witnesses and experts by videoconference. Children of migrant seasonal workers were not permitted automatically to join their parents. Children of foreigners who worked as migrant laborers only were permitted to visit on tourist visas for a period of 3 months at a time. After 3 months, they must return to their home country for 1 month.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination directed at persons with disabilities in employment, education, and the provision of other state services. The total number of persons with disabilities was estimated to be 700,000 (10 percent of the population). Most cantons already had implemented some provisions for persons with disabilities, but there was no countrywide standard. Advocates for persons with disabilities have called for new measures to ensure greater protection for their rights. The Constitution provides for equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. However, experts estimated that only approximately 20 to 30 percent of public buildings were wheelchair accessible.

In Basel, cantonal authorities have established an office promoting the independence and integration of people with disabilities, the first of its kind in the country. A new Equal Rights for People with Disabilities law is scheduled to take effect in 2004 that would also establish a new federal office to promote equal opportunities. A popular initiative calling for even greater access to public buildings and transport for the 700,000 handicapped was defeated by 62 percent of votes in a referendum on May 18.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to statistics gathered by the Foundation Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, the total number of reported incidents directed against foreigners or minorities was 110 in 2002, 9 fewer than in either of the previous 2 years. These figures include instances of verbal and written attacks, which were much more common than physical assaults. Investigations of such attacks generally were conducted effectively and led, in most cases, to the arrest of the persons responsible. Persons convicted of racist crimes commonly were sentenced to between 3 days' and 3 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $30,000 (40,000 Swiss francs). In 2001, 37 persons were convicted of racial discrimination.

Neo-Nazi, skinhead, and other extremist organizations attracted greater police and government attention during the year because of such groups' increasing organization at international levels, the violence they commit, and the youth of the group members. In June 2001, the Swiss Cabinet granted $3 million (4 million Swiss francs) to the National Science Foundation to undertake research on rightwing extremist groups. The country's central location makes it a convenient meeting place for groups from around the continent, and police frequently monitored large gatherings of neo-Nazis and skinheads. During the year, the Federal Police estimated that the number of members involved in right-wing extremist groups was approximately 1,000, an increase from 900 in 2000. Police estimated there were approximately 1,000 skinheads living in the country.

The number of incidents involving skin-heads increased slightly from approximately 100 incidents in 2001 to 120 in 2002. These incidents involved more violence and were more frequently directed against foreigners rather than property.

There were a few reported cases during the year of violent confrontations between skinheads and young foreigners. In October, a center for asylum seekers in the Aargau canton was damaged as a result of racist violence against asylum seekers but nobody was physically hurt in the incident.

According to the Director of the Federal Commission against Racism, many extremist groups strive to create political parties to have more political influence. One such party, the Party of Nationality-Oriented Swiss (PNOS), was founded in canton Basel Country. Under the Constitution, such political parties have a legal right to voice their opinions as long as they are not linked to criminal activity. The Government and private organizations have invested considerable resources to combat such groups and stem their growth. In November, a Basel court sentenced the 25-year-old founder and ex-president of PNOS to a 16-month suspended prison sentence for a series of violent attacks.

The neo-Nazis accused of killing 19-year-old Marcel von Allmen in 2001 were scheduled to be prosecuted for homicide in a Bern court in March 2004. The trial was delayed because of the psychiatric evaluations the three adult defendants had to undergo. The fourth defendant involved in the killing has already been tried and sentenced as a juvenile.

Federal penal law prohibits racial discrimination, and police have used this law to monitor and close racist web sites. Cycos tracked down extremist or racist content, as well as hackers, copyright violators, and child pornography on the Internet.

The Federal Service for the Combating of Racism of the Department of the Interior, established in 2001, began operation in January 2002. It manages the Federal Government's "Fund Projects against Racism and for Human Rights" with a budget of $11.2 million (15 million Swiss francs) for the 2001-2005 period. The amount of $372,000 (500,000 Swiss francs) per year has been earmarked for the establishment of new local consultation centers where victims of racial or religious discrimination may seek assistance. Approximately 130 consultation centers or contact points existed in the country. In addition, the Federal Service for the Combating of Racism sponsored a variety of educational and awareness-building projects to combat racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. Over $743,000 (1 million Swiss francs) was spent to support youth projects.

In March, Parliament approved a government proposal to allow victims of racial discrimination to file individual complaints before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Cases first must be litigated before national courts. Victims of racial discrimination may already appeal a national court ruling to the ECHR. Citizens will have the choice of appealing a national court ruling to either the CERD or the ECHR but may not appeal a U.N. decision to the ECHR or vice versa.

Swiss Roma groups who claimed they were victims of racial prejudice received assistance during the year from the Department of the Interior. Roma complaints included their exclusion from camping sites, which do not allow or limit the number of Roma allowed on the site. The Department continued its $111,000 (150,000 Swiss francs) annual endowment program to Future for Swiss Itinerants, a foundation that worked to improve living conditions for the Roma.

On July 9, the Federal Court ruled that cantonal practices of holding secret ballots to decide individual applications for citizenship were unconstitutional. In two separate unanimous rulings, the court decided that naturalization decisions must neither be arbitrary nor discriminatory, which precluded secret balloting. The two rulings triggered a national debate. As a consequence, the six cantons concerned have discontinued the practice of secret balloting, and examining bodies of citizenship applications across the country are now obligated to justify a rejection. The rulings produced some confusion, as the Federal Court did not pronounce on the constitutionality of town hall meetings deciding citizenship applications by a show of hands, a common practice. In October, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment to facilitate the naturalization of second-generation immigrants and automatically grant citizenship to the third-generation. The amendment was scheduled to be submitted to the mandatory national referendum in May 2004. The number of Swiss naturalizations rose from 26,860 in 2001 to 35,754 in 2002.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

All workers, including foreigners, have the freedom to associate freely, to join unions of their choice, and to select their own representatives, and workers exercised these rights in practice. Approximately one-quarter of the work force was unionized.

Unions were independent of the Government and political parties.

The law protects workers from acts of antiunion discrimination, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.

Unions associated freely with international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, and unions exercised this right. Periodic negotiations between employer and worker organizations determine wages and settle other labor issues at the local, or infrequently, at the industry sector level.

Nonunion firms generally adopt the terms and conditions fixed in the unions' collective bargaining. However, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions reported that employers were increasingly trying to avoid collective bargaining. Some employers left their Federation to avoid the collective agreement for their industry. For example, only 37 of the 270 Swiss textile employers adhered to the collective agreement in 2000.

Labor appeal courts existed at both the cantonal and district levels.

The Federal Act on Public Servants permits the Government to curtail or suspend the right to strike for certain categories of government employees only for reasons of national security, safeguarding national foreign policy interests, or providing the population with essential goods and services. The Federal Act on Public Servants only applies at the federal level. In some cantons and many communes, public servants were still denied the right to strike.

The Constitution provides specific protection for the right to strike; however, effective and informal agreement between unions and employers in the past have resulted in fewer than 10 strikes per year since 1975. The law prohibits retribution against strikers or their leaders. However, the number of strikes increased during the year, as uncertainties over job security and under-funded pension funds became more apparent. In March, Orange employees went on strike for approximately 1 week to protest against 225 job cuts, a plan which was later abandoned. Other strikes hit Swiss manufacturing industries, consumer goods such as Coca-Cola, the Swiss Post and the new Swiss Airline. As a result, trade union membership increased, most notably in the services sector.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The Constitution implicitly prohibits forced or bonded labor; Article 27 provides for economic freedom and explicitly guarantees the right to choose freely one's profession as well as unrestrained access to and unencumbered exercise of a gainful occupation, and there were no reports that such practices occurred. Article 30 of the 1964 Labor Act prohibits forced or bonded labor by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for the full-time employment of children is 15 years, and children generally remained in school until this age. Children over 13 years of age may be employed in light duties for not more than 9 hours per week during the school year and 15 hours otherwise. The employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 20 was regulated strictly; they were not allowed to work at night, on Sundays, or in hazardous or dangerous conditions. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs effectively enforced the law on working conditions. Government officials inspected companies that allegedly employed children illegally. During the year, no employers were fined or received conditional sentences for violations of the law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Government regulations cover maximum work hours, minimum length of holidays, sick leave, and compulsory military service, contract termination, and other requirements. However, there was no national minimum wage, which resulted in low wage structures for unskilled and service industry workers. Employees in the retail sectors, in cooperation with other interests, have been successful in slowing reform of the restrictive federal and cantonal laws governing opening hours; however, these restrictions were easing at year's end.

The law sets 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 law prescribes a rest period of 35 consecutive hours plus an additional half-day per week. Annual overtime is limited by law to 170 hours for those working 45 hours per week and to 140 hours for those working 50 hours per week. On July 1, the Government reduced the unemployment benefit period from 520 to 400 days for workers under 55 years of age.

The Labor Act and the Federal Code of Obligations contain extensive regulations to protect worker health and safety. There were no reports of lapses in the enforcement of these regulations, but the degree to which enforcement is effective was unclear. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment.

The law generally protects legal and illegal foreign workers; however, some employers did not always respect the rights of illegal foreign workers in practice. Illegal foreign workers are not covered by mandatory health insurance because health insurance contracts are a private matter under the law. Although legal workers are required by law to subscribe to a private insurance scheme, there is no obligation for employers to ensure that their employees are adequately covered. The insurance covering accidents at work is paid in full by the employer, and as a result applies to both legal and illegal workers; however, illegal workers were not entitled to unemployment benefits.

Wage discrimination against foreign workers was not permitted, but according to a 2000 study by a domestic think tank, foreign worker's salaries were on average 16 percent lower than citizens. According to an NGO, 100,000 to 300,000 foreign workers were vulnerable to abuse of their rights during their participation in the underground economy for long periods. Late in 2002, many of these workers demonstrated for legal status and more worker rights by occupying churches in major cities for several days in cooperation with religious and human rights groups. According to the Swiss statistical office, 10.9 percent of foreign workers were considered working poor and earned less than $22,000 (30,000 Swiss francs) per year. The percentage of citizens working poor was estimated at 5.2 percent of the citizen working population.

On May 1, the Federal Department for Home Affairs organized a workshop with employers, federations, and trade unions to discuss racial discrimination at work, and at the same time initiated a public invitation to tender for projects aimed at identifying racism at work, increasing control and training, and providing assistance and counseling to the victims.

These programs were part of a wider strategy already undertaken by the Swiss cabinet in 2001, which provides $11.2 million (15 million Swiss francs) over 4 years to promote the Government's efforts against racial discrimination.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The Penal Code criminalizes sexual exploitation and trafficking in persons; however, trafficking in women for prostitution increased.

The Penal Code has two articles specifically prohibiting trafficking in persons, both of which focus on sexual exploitation and prostitution, but not labor trafficking. Trafficking in persons may result in prison sentences of up to 20 years; coercing a person into prostitution or restricting a prostitute's personal freedom can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

A 2002 Federal Court decision held that hiring young women from abroad to engage in prostitution generally constitutes human trafficking. In particular, the Federal Court ruled that a woman's consent to prostitute herself was invalid, if it was obtained in a situation of distress. The charge of human trafficking only applies if the victims engage in prostitution against their will. Under the new ruling, the charge still applies even if on the face of it the women were prostituting themselves voluntarily but their traffickers exploited a situation of distress or dependency.

The prosecution of illegal prostitution and trafficking of persons normally falls under the jurisdiction of cantonal police authorities. However, since 2001, more complex cases that involve several cantons or are linked to organized crime are under the authority of the federal agencies to investigate and prosecute. The conviction rate for traffickers remained low. Of an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 potential victims of human trafficking in the country, between 20 and 40 cases of human trafficking and between 50 and 80 cases of forced prostitution are reported to police annually, leading to approximately 5 and 25 convictions respectively. However, considering that each case involves several instances of trafficking, the number of victims whose tormentors were brought to justice was much higher.

In December 2002, the Parliament amended the Penal Code to allow jurisdiction in domestic courts over perpetrators of crimes such as trafficking regardless of the location of the crime. Under the Swiss Victim's Assistance Law, individuals identified as trafficking victims may seek help from centers providing counseling and material and legal aid to abuse victims. This law also safeguards victims' rights in criminal prosecutions with special rules for trial procedures and for compensation and redress.

The Swiss Cabinet mandated the Federal Department of Justice and Police in 2000 with setting up an interdepartmental working group to assess the need for additional government action, namely new legal provisions, to combat human trafficking. According to the working group, immigration legislation, which criminalizes the victims of human trafficking (because they reside or work illegally in the country) and normally leads to their rapid deportation upon detection, served as a disincentive for victims to turn against their traffickers. The working group made several recommendations on how to combat human trafficking: Broaden the definition of human trafficking in the Penal Code to include exploitation of labor force and organ snatching; run awareness campaigns both in Switzerland and the countries of origin, grant (temporary) residency to victims of human trafficking, and improve local cooperation among the police, judicial authorities and victim assistance centers. The Swiss Cabinet tasked the departments concerned to assess these proposals and to make recommendations as to their implementation.

The Government has an office to combat the trafficking of young women for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. The human trafficking office existed as part of the Federal Office of Police (BAP) until the latter's reorganization in 2000. Since then, two separate BAP divisions handle trafficking problems in the broader context of organized crime: The Federal Criminal Police handles international cooperation and investigations of organized crime, including human trafficking, and the Service for Analysis and Prevention (DAP) does strategic analyses of information.

During the year, the Federal Department of Police's Central Coordination Office for Human Trade and Human Smuggling began operations. The Government was particularly active in international cooperation and investigations including: In 2002 it worked jointly with foreign law enforcement agents to dismantle an Asian crime ring trafficking Chinese women into prostitution abroad and signed a legal assistance treaty in criminal matters with the Philippines.

Switzerland is primarily a country of destination, and secondarily transit, for mostly women trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Federal police estimated that between 1,500 and 3,000 potential victims of human trafficking were in the country. However, since Swiss federalism dictates that alien registration and enforcement be handled at the cantonal level, there were few reliable statistics on the extent of the trafficking problem. According to authorities, most persons trafficked originated in Thailand, parts of Africa, or South America. An increasing number of trafficked women arrived from Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, or other states of the former Soviet Union. Police figures indicated that approximately 14,000 prostitutes worked in the country both legally and illegally. More than half worked in Basel, Bern, Zurich, Lucerne, Geneva, and Ticino.

Since the late 1990s, a growing number of salons and clubs have appeared in which women registered as artists engaged in illegal prostitution. Authorities suspected that traffickers were bringing some of these "artists" into the country. Police monitoring was difficult because the artist visas (also called the "L" residency permits, which is only valid 8 months) include an allowance for a short work period during which individuals may engage in some form of self-employed activity. During the month of April, approximately 1,340 women stayed in the country on "L" residency permits spread across about 400 cabarets, of which 244 came from Romania, 348 from Ukraine, 143 from Russia, and 177 from the Dominican Republic. In the past, L Permits issued to Ukrainian women increased from 88 in 1995 to 407 in May 2001, an increase of 360 percent in 6 years. Permits to Romanian and Moldavian women increased by 650 percent and 800 percent, respectively, over the same period. According to the Chief of the Geneva vice squad, the police had no legal means of preventing cabaret dancers from prostituting themselves after work hours but tried to prevent physical abuses against prostitutes. Smaller prostitution networks also existed and often involved relatives of foreign families established in the country, or members of the same ethnic groups.

Traffickers often forced victims into prostitution and in many cases subjected them to physical and sexual violence, threatened them or their families, encouraged drug addiction, withheld their documents, and incarcerated them. Many victims were forced to work in salons or clubs to pay for the cost of their travel and forged documents and found themselves dependent on the traffickers. Generally the victims were unable to read, write, or speak the country's languages, and were afraid to seek help from the authorities.

Under the Victim's Assistance Law, trafficking victims may seek help from centers providing assistance to abuse victims. These centers/shelters typically provided counseling as well as material and legal aid but in some cases may also provide travel vouchers and emergency lodging. In penal proceedings, trafficking victims who are testifying enjoy special protection of their identity and may request the trial to take place behind closed doors and a confrontation with the defendant to be avoided. Women's shelters and NGOs that provided services to victims received federal and cantonal government funding.

In some regions, NGOs complained of working at odds with cantonal police authorities that tended to favor rapid deportation of possible trafficking victims and were inclined to treat the latter as criminals. NGOs particularly criticized the lack of a designated person of contact within cantonal police authorities. To address the problem, the Zurich-based Women's Information Center (FIZ) initiated working groups to improve cooperation between NGOs and cantonal justice and police authorities. In Zurich representatives of the police, the immigration office, the prosecutor's office, the Government's Equal Opportunity Office, and FIZ regularly convened to improve cooperation between the different parties to provide better assistance to victims of trafficking.

Federal and cantonal governments provide funding to NGOs and women's shelters that provide services to victims, and cantonal authorities may grant temporary residency permits on a case-by-case basis to victims willing to assist in investigations and testify in court. In cases of serious hardship, a federal ordinance allows cantonal police to grant a residency permit to victims of sexual exploitation or forced labor, and while practice in this area was reportedly spotty, such permits were provided in several dozens of cases. Despite the range of protections, some victims were summarily deported to their country of origin. With regard to expedited deportation, the foreign ministry was encouraging cantons to increase cooperation with local NGOs that work with trafficking victims to identify victims who might be able to qualify for exceptional treatment (and to finger traffickers).

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) helps fund programs intended to combat trafficking from Eastern Europe, having spent approximately $89,000 (120,000 Swiss francs) in 2002 on anti-human trafficking programs. In addition, DFA's Development Cooperation Office (DEZA) funded half a dozen programs intended to combat human trafficking mainly from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union with approximately $223,000 (300,000 Swiss francs) in 2002. An information campaign launched in 2002 by the Swiss Embassy in Moscow to prevent women from being drawn into Switzerland's sex industry has led to a dramatic decrease in fraudulent visa applications during the year. The Swiss Embassy, in cooperation with a local NGO, held awareness raising seminars for its staff and tightened visa regulations for applicants aged between 18 and 25. Staff at Swiss missions in Ukraine and Colombia were undergoing similar trafficking awareness raising programs. The Department of Foreign Affairs has established a set of guidelines on effective international measures to prevent human trafficking and protect victims, which was forwarded to all Swiss Embassies and Development Coordination Offices.

The Interior Ministry's Office for Equality between Women and Men initiated a program to train Swiss consular officials to educate visa applicants in their home countries on the risks of falling victim to human traffickers and methods used to lure women into vulnerable situations. The Government provided funding to the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe's Anti-Trafficking Task Force and supported the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Anti-Trafficking Project Fund.


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