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Amnesty warns of human rights "time bomb"

Swiss police have been accused of racial profiling Keystone

The global financial crisis is also a human rights crisis – including in Switzerland, according to Amnesty International.

This content was published on May 28, 2009 - 10:03

The world faces a grave danger that "rising poverty and desperate economic and social conditions could lead to political instability and mass violence", said the organisation in its annual report.

Amnesty also criticised, once again, Swiss treatment of asylum seekers and racial discrimination.

"Behind the financial crisis is an explosive human rights crisis," said Daniel Bolomey, secretary-general of Amnesty's Swiss section, presenting the report in Bern.

"The World Bank estimates that a further 53 million people will slide into poverty this year and the International Labour Organisation says up to 51 million people could lose their jobs."

Amnesty said world leaders were concentrating on reviving the global economy but neglecting conflicts that spawned widespread human rights abuses, citing Gaza, Sudan's Darfur region, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

Asked about the Swiss government's decision to find $60 billion (SFr65 billion) to bail out UBS, Switzerland's largest bank, but not to raise development aid levels, Manon Schick from Amnesty's Swiss section told swissinfo.ch the organisation supported the UBS injection.

"But we say that the government should give the same energy and the same amount of money to solve the real human rights problems," she said.

"The world is facing a very big human rights crisis – we're calling it a time bomb – and if [politicians] don't do something now, it will explode."

"Continuing problem"

In its analysis of Switzerland, Amnesty concluded that "inadequate legislation failed to provide effective protection against discrimination".

"Allegations of racial discrimination, including ill treatment, by law enforcement officials continued. Restrictive legislation violated the economic, social and cultural rights of asylum seekers and irregular migrants [who enter a country, usually in search of employment, without the necessary documents and permits]," the report said.

It pointed out that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) had highlighted the continuing problem of discrimination in Switzerland, including the use of racial profiling by police.

The Universal Periodic Review process of the UN Human Rights Council also called on Switzerland to take measures against racism and discrimination.

Legislation

In addition, on March 18 parliament adopted legislation authorising the use of electro-shock weapons and police dogs during the forcible expulsion of foreign nationals, which Amnesty said could violate Council of Europe standards on the proportionate use of force in such operations.

According to the 2009 report, 346 people have died in the US since 2001 after being "tasered" by the police.

It also believed legislation introduced in 2007 to protect victims of domestic violence had been inadequately implemented in some cantons, with insufficient specialist training for police and no training for judges.

More positively, the report noted that on September 8 Switzerland signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Denise Graf, head of asylum at Amnesty's Swiss section, called for a "paradigm shift" from the Swiss government.

"Especially in matters of asylum and irregular migration because here the situation is really bad," she told swissinfo.ch.

Guantánamo

Graf said it's hard to compare Switzerland with other countries, as in some areas the situation is better and in some areas worse.

"Take for example detention. Switzerland has the possibility to put someone in administrative detention for 24 months – this can't be done in any other European country," she said.

"But on the other hand we certainly have a better situation than in Italy, where people are sent back without any procedure to countries known for grave human rights violations."

The government got good marks from Graf regarding the Guantánamo prison camp – "one of the biggest debacles in modern human rights history".

"Switzerland was the first country to look at the files and examine whether it could accept a small group of detainees from Guantánamo. This was a very positive step and we're really glad about it because we think it advanced the files in other countries."

Role model?

And is Switzerland still a human rights role model for other countries?

"When we talk to our colleagues from other sections, we see that Switzerland still has this position, but we're slowly losing it," she admitted.

"If we want other countries to improve the situation, we really need to keep this position so we can say 'look at our example'. But now, concerning migrant and asylum rights, we can no longer be an example if we continue with this kind of legislation."

Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch

In brief

Amnesty International (AI)was founded in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson.

AI was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for its campaign against torture.

According to its 2009 report, AI has more than 2.2 million members or supporters in more than 150 countries. AI Switzerland, based in Bern, has more than 40,000 members.

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Reviewing Swiss human rights

In June 2006, the Human Rights Council replaced the widely discredited and highly politicised UN Human Rights Commission that had been around since 1946. One of the council's duties is to conduct a Universal Periodic Review of all 192 members of the UN to scrutinize their human rights records at home. Countries can only be reviewed based on the human rights treaties they have ratified.

Member states are divided into groups of about 16 countries for the procedures. During a two-week review session, a council working group looks at the human rights record for each country within that group. Each country's review typically lasts three hours.

Muriel Berset, a human rights minister with the Swiss Mission in Geneva, said small countries are empowered to criticise powerful ones by delegating one country to speak for a region.

Switzerland was reviewed in May. At that time the country rejected 12 of the 32 recommendations that other countries made, including one to ratify a UN treaty on migrants' rights. At that time, the foreign ministry said it was "incompatible" with federal laws already in place.

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