Foreigners and women face Swiss problems: US

Switzerland has overcrowded prisons, security services that use excessive force, and lingering discrimination problems, according to the US State Department's Country Report on human rights practices in 2013.

Foreigners and women face Swiss problems: US
US Secretary of State John Kerry released the reports on Thursday. Photo: United States Department of State

Based on factual reporting from US embassies around the world, the State Department's annual country reports chronicle human rights conditions in almost 200 countries.

The reports were released on Thursday by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Even as we come together today to issue a report on other nations, we hold ourselves to a high standard, and we expect accountability here at home too," Kerry said.

"And we know that we’re not perfect," he said.

"We don’t speak with any arrogance whatsoever, but with a concern for the human condition."

Kerry added: "We are proud that no country has more opportunity to advance the cause of democracy and no country is as committed to the cause of human rights as we are."

The report for Switzerland identified overcrowded prisons as a particular problem, singling out Geneva's Champ-Dollon prison which, though built for 376 inmates, now contains well over 800.

The prison has been in the news this week after violent clashes between ethnic groups of inmates, with 26 prisoners and eight wardens injured in five separate incidents.

On Wednesday, the federal court upheld a complaint filed by two inmates over conditions in the prison, judging their living conditions to be degrading and a contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The US report also identified the occasional use of excessive force by Swiss security forces, particularly in connection with the arrests and deportations of asylum seekers.

Authorities sometimes subjected asylum seekers to lengthy detention and mistreatment, it said, citing the Federal Office of Migration's use of decommissioned military bunkers to house asylum seekers, which protesters in August maintained lacked sunlight and fresh air.

On November 22nd, a federal judge ruled that the temporary housing of a rejected asylum seeker without family or medical issues in such conditions did not violate the right to privacy or amount to torture.

While the Swiss government generally did not force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened, said the report, there were exceptions.

It gives the example of a 34-year-old Tamil man who was repatriated to Sri Lanka in July and subsequently arrested in Colombo and imprisoned.

Switzerland is soon to benefit from closer collaboration with Europe over the issue of asylum.

Just two days after the February 9th anti-immigration referendum distanced Switzerland from the EU, the European Council approved Switzerland's participation in the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), subject to ratification.

Its association with the EASO means Switzerland will be able share knowledge and risk analysis on asylum with EU states and participate in the bureau's strategic decision-making.

The State Department report also highlights discrimination as a continued problem.

Right-wing extremists who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants continued to be publicly active, it said.

The Federal Commission against Racism and the non-governmental website expressed concern in 2013 about increasingly hostile attitudes toward Roma and itinerant minorities.

During a November discussion on police discrimination in Zurich with representatives from minority youth groups, two youths stated that police sometimes stopped them as often as four times a day, said the report, even asking them to remove their clothing so their genitals could be inspected by flashlight.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, added the report.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem, and discrimination against women in the workplace was also an issue.

A disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility, said the report, while women were promoted less frequently than men and were less likely to own or manage businesses.

While the 1996 equality law obliges companies to provide equal pay for equal work, most employers successfully disregarded this law, it added.

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