Switzerland: Police must publish suspects’ nationality after referendum vote

Switzerland: Police must publish suspects’ nationality after referendum vote
Photo: Nathalie OLOF-ORS / AFP
Switzerland on Sunday voted to force police to make the nationality of a suspect public. However an effort to require police publicise a suspect’s ethnicity failed at the ballot box.

The initiative by Swiss People’s Party, which required authorities to disclose the offenders’ ethnicity or ‘migration background’, was turned down by voters. 

Only 44 percent of the public backed the vote. 

However, the watered-down counter-proposal of the cantonal council was approved by 55.2 percent of voters. 

Zurich police now have to indicate the nationalities of suspects in their media releases, but not their ‘migration background’ or ethnicity. 

Why did the vote take place? 

The practice of disclosing the nationality of a suspect has become widespread in Switzerland, where most police forces make this information public, along with age or gender.

Zurich has however been an exception since police chief Richard Wolff decided in 2017 that the authorities would no longer routinely mention a person’s nationality, except at the request of journalists.

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But in May 2018, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) submitted the popular initiative calling for the origin of the alleged perpetrators and victims to be given in media releases by the police, including their ethnicity or ‘migration background’.

“Only when you know the background are you in a position to correctly judge a situation”, SVP’s Zurich branch said on its website.

It added that “for Switzerland in particular, with its diverse democratic rights of participation, it is essential that the authorities provide open information on all issues”.

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Cantonal government submitted a counter-proposal under which only the nationality would be disclosed in police reports, but not — as the initiative demands — the migration background.

How do police feel about the issue? 

Police are opposed to releasing ethnicity information about suspects, saying it would create two categories of Swiss people. 

“We’d have to set up a kind of genealogy department in the police,” Zurich genealogy director Mario Fehr told Swiss news outlet Watson

Fehr said there was no guidance as yet provided by the SVP on what type of ‘migration background’ information should be released publicly, or whether the background of ‘ethnic Swiss’ should be released. 


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