Amnesty flags up asylum abuses

Rejected asylum seekers are regularly deported back to their homeland by the Swiss Keystone Archive

Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations’ Committee against Torture (CAT) to give Switzerland a rough ride when it presents its latest report this week.

This content was published on May 5, 2005 - 16:26

The Swiss branch of the human-rights organisation says it is particularly concerned about the toughening of the asylum law and police use of electroshock weapons during deportations.

The government is due before the CAT on Friday and Monday to explain the steps it has taken to prevent and punish acts of torture in Switzerland.

The report covers a range of issues from asylum and forced deportations through to the rights of people in police custody and the transportation of prisoners in Switzerland.

Amnesty has highlighted a draft law, which was presented by the justice ministry in November, defining legal and illegal methods for deporting foreigners who refuse to leave the country peacefully.

It lists several types of shackles and handcuffs, electroshock weapons and batons – forms of restraint which are already used in certain cases – that would be allowed as a last resort.

Since 1999 at least two foreigners – a Palestinian and a Nigerian – have died in police custody during deportation.

"We have always said that electroshock weapons should not be used until an inquiry has been carried out into the medical consequences of their use," said Denise Graf, refugee coordinator at the Swiss branch of Amnesty International.

Asylum seekers

The human-rights organisation is also concerned about proposals to tighten the asylum law that would speed up the processing of applications and pressure rejected asylum seekers to leave the country.

Graf told swissinfo that the rights of asylum seekers in Switzerland were constantly being eroded and many were in a "desperate situation".

"With the changing of the law, the maximum detention period would be doubled. Asylum seekers could be detained for up to 24 months without having committed a criminal act," she said.

"Also refugees and asylum seekers are facing more and more difficulty in getting access to legal help and we are concerned about increasing human-rights violations committed by private security agencies working at asylum centres."

Amnesty and other non-governmental organisations met members of the ten-strong committee to outline their concerns on Wednesday.

Answers wanted

The CAT has already published a list of issues related to the report that it wants to take up with the Swiss authorities.

It has asked for more details on the procedure for forced deportations and whether cross-cantonal guidelines introduced in 2002 ban the wearing of masks or hoods by police during deportations.

It wants clarification on the rights of asylum seekers detained at airports prior to deportation, including the maximum amount of time and under what conditions they can be held, and whether they have access to food, water and toilet facilities.

The committee is also demanding answers as to why the definition of torture contained in the UN Convention on Torture, which was ratified by Switzerland in 1986, has not been incorporated into the penal code.

Bernardo Stadelmann, vice-director of the Federal Justice Office, who is leading the Swiss delegation, said he would not comment on Switzerland’s position on these and other issues until after the hearing.

José Luis Díaz, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the CAT would issue a set of recommendations and observations later this month on how Switzerland was complying with the convention.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

The Committee against Torture (CAT) is a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Switzerland is among 139 states party to the convention, which it ratified in December 1986.

During its three-week session in Geneva, the committee will review measures undertaken by Switzerland, Togo, Canada, Finland, Albania, Uganda and Bahrain to prevent and punish acts of torture.

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