Minister: Swiss ‘wise’ to go slow on human rights

Switzerland's slowness in implementing human rights reforms is nothing to apologize for but rather grounds for celebration, the country's foreign minister told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Minister: Swiss 'wise' to go slow on human rights
Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter hails sluggish progress on human rights (Photo: British Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

"We move forward in our own way," Didier Burkhalter told the council, following criticism by some member states that Bern was not moving fast enough to address issues like racial and gender discrimination and to strengthen gender equality in the workplace.

The council members "must understand the institutional workings" of Switzerland, he said, insisting that the country's slowness allowed it to avoid "conflicts and the risk of stalemate," and that it was in fact evidence that it "acts with wisdom."

"Switzerland is used to taking its time. You need time to integrate new directives, and it is very dangerous to go too fast, because you risk antagonizing the Swiss people and making them even more suspicious of international institutions. So don't panic," Burkhalter said in response to the criticism during a periodic review of Switzerland's human rights record.

"We hear the criticism of us, but in fact, it is a problem of partial understanding" of the Swiss political system, the minister said, insisting that Switzerland's direct democracy was built on a long-term relationship of confidence between the authorities and the people.

On Monday, a number of countries, mainly African nations, asked Switzerland to take further measures to fight xenophobia and racial discrimination.

Disproportionate use of force by police against asylum seekers was also criticized, as was the detention of minors who were seeking asylum and who were unaccompanied by adults, and discrimination against women migrants.

Turkey meanwhile called on Bern to lift a ban on minarets, which was introduced after a 2009 referendum and which was also criticized by the United States and Norway.

Several countries, including the Netherlands and Spain, also decried persistent gender gaps on the Swiss labour market.

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Switzerland sticks with mountain name despite ‘racist’ ties

A Swiss town on Wednesday refused to rename the Agassizhorn mountain despite its namesake's espousal of racist views.

Switzerland sticks with mountain name despite 'racist' ties
Switzerland's Agassizhorn. Image: Creative Commons

The 19th century Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz was known for research into fish, fossils and glaciers, but he has also been criticised in recent years for defending racist ideas.

After emigrating to the United States in 1846, Agassiz argued for racial segregation and hierarchies, and fiercely attacked Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

IN PICTURES: Powerful images from anti-racism protests across Switzerland 

But mayor of the town of Grindelwald, Beat Bucher, disagreed with those who wanted to change the peak's name, saying: “We cannot erase the stains of history.”

In a reference to the central Swiss summit, Bucher added: “It is better to accept it with its positive and negative aspects.”

The mountain peak, at just under 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) is shared by two other municipalities, Guttannen and Fieschertal, which had already rejected a bid to rename it.

A fresh effort was made after the killing in late May of George Floyd, an African American asphyxiated by a white police officer, generated a global wave of revulsion against racist symbols.

A similar push to rename the mountain was rejected in 2007.