Equality For Members

Why are vegans suing Switzerland in Europe’s human rights court?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 1 Nov, 2022 Updated Tue 1 Nov 2022 11:33 CEST
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Swiss prisoners and hospital patients don't always have access to vegan meals. Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Two men have complained to the European Court of Human Rights that prisoners and psychiatric patients in Switzerland are not receiving vegan meals. Here's a look at what's going on.

The two men who have launched the case want the Swiss government to pay them 10,000 francs each in damages for the “emotional distress” they say they suffered when a Geneva prison and Vaud psychiatric hospital neglected to serve them "nutritionally balanced" vegan meals.

The prisoner, who spent nearly a year in jail for breaking into, and vandalising, meat processing facilities and butcher shops, filed a complaint with a Swiss court, which rejected the case.

It ruled that the Geneva prison where the man was detained “tried to accommodate” his dietary requests and “several measures had been put in place so that the detainee could eat according to his beliefs”. The man, however, “had been uncooperative”, Swiss judges said.

Meanwhile, the patient claimed that during his two stays at a public psychiatric facility in Lausanne, he received a number of non-vegan, or meatless but nutritionally unbalanced meals.

Though initially separate cases, the two filed a joint complaint against Switzerland at the the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The government is implicated in the complaint because both the prison and the psychiatric hospital are state-run.

In its initial decision released on Monday, the ECHR mentioned that in failing to provide the two complainants with vegan meals, both public institutions might have violated the European Convention of Human Rights, and particularly the article which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

While veganism — as well the right to a vegan diet in public institutions — is not mentioned specifically in the Convention, the ECHR could establish this point in its ruling, expected sometime in 2023. It's after this point that we should expect a final ruling on this case. 

This is not the first time Switzerland has been on trial at the European Court.

In October, the ECHR ruled that the country has discriminated against widowers (versus widows) in terms of pensions, likening this attitude to "sexism".

READ MORE: Switzerland rapped for being ‘sexist’ towards men over pensions

In 2021 alone, the Court handled 249 applications concerning Switzerland, of which 242 were declared inadmissible or struck out.

Among the cases that were ruled in applicants’ favour in 2021 was one that faulted Switzerland for imposing a heavy fine on a Romanian woman for begging and then detaining her when she couldn’t pay.



Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/11/01 11:33

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