Amnesty slams Swiss for human rights violations

Amnesty International slammed Switzerland on Wednesday for ill treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, inhumane conditions for inmates of a Geneva prison and inadequate measures against racial discrimination.

Amnesty slams Swiss for human rights violations
Entrance ot Champ-Dollon prison. Photo: RTS

Amnesty’s charges appeared on Wednesday in its annual report for 2014-15, which underlined concerns raised in the past year by the Swiss National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) and various NGOs.

The NCPT said people facing deportation faced excessive use of force when being moved from detention centres for asylum seekers to airports.

The commission said police force practices varied from one canton to another and that uniform national standards were needed.

The report highlighted problems with forced deportations, citing a case of two Tamil asylum seekers from Switzerland who were sent to Sri Lanka in 2013 only to end up in detention there before being transferred to a “rehabilitation” camp.

Amnesty noted that after temporarily halting forced returns to Sri Lanka, the Federal Office for Migration in May last year announced it would review cases of asylum seekers from that country whose applications were rejected, but resumed deportations.

The report also drew attention to inhumane conditions at Geneva’s Champ-Dollon prison, which as of November 2014 held 811 inmates “in a space designed to accommodate 376”.

Switzerland’s supreme court ruled a year ago that two prisoners held at Champ-Dollon were subjected to conditions that breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

The two prisoners “were held consecutively for three months, confined for 23 hours per day with four other detainees in a cell measuring 23 square metres designed for three inmates, without access to any activities”.

Disturbances at the prison in February 2014 resulted in injuries to eight guards and about 30 prisoners.

The Amnesty report also zeroes in on racial discrimination concerns in Switzerland.

A committee of the UN Human Rights Council has urged the Swiss government to “introduce a clear and comprehensive definition of direct and indirect racial discrimination covering all fields of law”, it said.

The report referred to a ruling in November 2015 by the administrative court of the canton of Saint Gallen that found a school ban on a Muslim student wearing a headscarf as “disproportionate”.

Globally, Amnesty International derided what it called a “devastating year for those seeking to stand up fro human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones”.

Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians but the world’s politicians “have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need,” Salil Shetty, the organization’s secretary general said in the report.

That needs to change, he said, noting that civilians have borne the brunt of conflicts around the world.

The report looks at rights violations in a such hotspots as Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

“We must hope that, looking backward to 2014 in the years to come, what we lived through will be seen as the ultimate low point from which we rose up and created a better future“, Shetty said.

For more on the Amnesty Report, click here.






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How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.