President issues anti-racism appeal

People hold hands in a show of unity during an anti-racism demonstration Keystone

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has acknowledged that racism is still a problem in Switzerland, despite the constitution forbidding such discrimination.

This content was published on March 21, 2007 minutes

Calmy-Rey made her comments to mark Wednesday's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

"Let's be honest: we cannot easily dismiss the existence of racism in our country," this year's president and foreign minister said in a statement.

"People with a different skin colour are [sometimes] vilified and regarded as hostile," Calmy-Rey added. "This reality saddens me because it is diametrically opposed to principles in our constitution such as solidarity, equal rights and equal opportunities."

She said human rights and equality were not exclusively reserved for Swiss citizens but for everyone in the country, regardless of their nationality or skin colour.

Calmy-Rey reminded the Swiss that a Geneva-based committee was responsible for ensuring that states respected the international convention against racism.

She said Switzerland took its obligations seriously and remained in contact with all international bodies to combat racism.

The Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is organising a high-level panel discussion on Wednesday to discuss this year's theme: Racism and Discrimination - Obstacles to Development.

The discussion will touch on a number of issues, notably the inter relationships between racism and other forms of discrimination, development, poverty, economic growth, good governance and conflicts.

Job discrimination

The Swiss Trade Union Federation is using the event to highlight discrimination against immigrants. Unions have agreed to fight for equal pay, access to the job market and professional training for non-Swiss workers.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21, the day in 1960 when South African police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful anti-apartheid demonstration in Sharpeville.

Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the United Nations General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

"Racist practices hurt their victims, but they also limit the promise of entire societies where they are tolerated," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on this year's occasion.

"They prevent individuals from realising their potential and stop them from contributing fully to national progress. Where unaddressed, they can cause social unrest and conflict, undermining stability and economic growth."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Reported racist incidents in Switzerland (according to Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism):
2006: 88 cases, including 23 of verbal racism
2005: 111 cases, including 44 of verbal racism
2004: 109 cases, including 29 of verbal racism
2003: 116 cases
2002: 128 cases

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In brief

There are 170 states party to the convention.

Switzerland ratified the convention on November 29, 1994 and recognized the procedure for complaints from individuals in 2003.

The convention against racism:
- contains a precise definition of racial discrimination
- obliges states to refrain from all acts and practices of racial discrimination
- requires states to take suitable measures against racial discrimination
- lists various civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights whose enjoyment must be guaranteed to everyone without distinction as to race
- contains the basic right to effective judicial complaint procedures (legal remedies) in the case of all acts of racial discrimination.

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