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Title:  Switzerland Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Switzerland is a constitutional democracy with a federal structure and 
an independent judiciary.  The bicameral Parliament elects the seven 
members of the Federal Council, the highest executive body, whose 
presidency rotates annually.  Because of the nation's linguistic and 
religious diversity, the Swiss political system emphasizes local and 
national political consensus and grants considerable autonomy to 
individual cantons.

The Swiss armed forces are a civilian-controlled militia based on 
universal military service for able-bodied males.  There is virtually no 
standing army apart from training cadres and a few essential 
headquarters staff functions.  Police duties are primarily a 
responsibility of the individual cantons, which have their own distinct 
police forces kept under effective control.  The National Police 
Authority has a coordination role and relies on the cantons for actual 
law enforcement.

Switzerland has a highly developed free enterprise industrial and 
service economy strongly dependent on international trade.  The standard 
of living is very high.

The Government fully respects human rights, and there were no major 
human rights problems.  However, there continue to be instances of 
violence against foreigners and lingering concerns over minor violence 
against foreigners in police custody.  In 1994 an independent government 
inquiry cleared police of similar allegations.  The implementation of a 
new law against asylum seekers who are suspected of committing a crime 
has led to charges of unjustified detention or incarceration.  However, 
the federal court has overturned police and lower court actions deemed 
in violation of the new law.  Some laws still tend to discriminate 
against women.  However, amendments to the law on gender equality were 
to have come into force in January 1996.  The Government is taking 
serious steps to address violence against women.  


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

On November 13, Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Alaa Nazmi was shot and killed 
in Geneva.  No suspects have been identified; a group calling itself the 
International Justice Group claimed credit for the killing, in 
"retribution" for anti-Islamic actions.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 

The Constitution proscribes such practices, and there were no reports of 
violations.  In response to claims of minor violence in 1994 against 
persons in cantonal police custody, the Federal Government conducted an 
inquiry and exonerated the cantonal police forces.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards, and the 
Government permits visits by human rights monitors.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The legal prohibitions on arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile are 
fully respected at all levels of government.  A suspect may not be held 
longer than 24 hours without a warrant of arrest issued by the 
investigative magistrate.  A suspect has the right to choose and contact 
an attorney as soon as the warrant is issued; the State provides free 
counsel for indigents.  Investigations are generally prompt even if in 
some cases investigative detention may exceed the length of sentence.  
Release on personal recognizance or bail is granted unless the  
magistrate believes the person is dangerous or will not appear for 
trial.  Any lengthy detention is subject to review by higher judicial 

There is no summary exile, nor is exile used as a mean of political 
control.  Non-Swiss convicted of crimes may receive sentences which 
include denial of reentry for a specific period following completion of 
a prison sentence.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
Government respects this provision in practice.  The judiciary provides 
citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.

The Constitution provides for public trials in which the defendant's 
rights are fully respected, including the right to challenge and to 
present witnesses or evidence.  All courts of first instance are local 
or cantonal courts.  Minor cases are tried by a single judge, difficult 
cases by a panel of judges, and murder (or other serious cases) by a 
public jury.  Trials are usually held expeditiously.  Citizens have the 
right to appeal to a higher instance court, ultimately to the Federal 

There were no reports of political prisoners.

Most cantons since 1991 have suspended the incarceration of 
conscientious objectors and have replaced it with public service work.  
This change of policy took place in expectation of a new law instituting 
a civilian service alternative for conscientious objectors, even though 
the law then in effect provided for no exemption.  Parliament passed the 
new law and it is to come into force in January 1996.  The new law 
essentially decriminalizes refusal to serve in the military if such 
refusal is motivated by reasons of conscientious objection.

  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

Cantonal laws regulate police entry into private premises.  These 
regulations differ widely from canton to canton, but all prohibit such 
practices without a warrant.  All government authorities respect these 
provisions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanction.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and 
the Government respects these rights in practice.  An independent press, 
an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system 
combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic 
freedom.  The authorities may legally restrict these freedoms for groups 
deemed to be a threat to the State, but no groups were restricted during 
the year.  In addition, an article of the Penal Code criminalizes racist 
or anti-Semitic expression, whether in public speech or in printed 

Most broadcast media are government-funded but possess editorial 
autonomy, and foreign broadcast media are freely available.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights and the Government respects 
them in practice.

  c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for complete freedom of religion, and the 
Government respects this right in practice.  There is no single state 
church, but most cantons support one or several churches out of public 
funds.  A taxpayer may opt out of contributing to church funding in all 
cantons, but in 19 cantons private companies may not.

  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

Under the Constitution and the law, citizens are free to travel in or 
outside the country, to emigrate, and to repatriate.

Switzerland has traditionally been a haven for refugees, but public 
concern over the high number of asylum seekers generated pressure on the 
Government to tighten its policy.

The prominent role played by some asylum seekers in narcotics 
trafficking led to passage of a new law in February.  The new 
legislation introduced tougher measures aimed at refugees suspected of 
committing crimes or illegally avoiding repatriation.  The law contains 
the following key elements which apply only to those suspected or 
convicted of a felony: preliminary incarceration of an asylum seeker 
waiting for a decision concerning his asylum request; detention prior to 
repatriation to avoid escape; and restrictions on freedom of movement to 
inhibit access to the local narcotics market.  In all of these measures, 
the new law obliges the police to inform a judge of their action.  At 
that point, the judge can overturn the police action.  If the judge 
approves incarceration, the detained asylum seeker's right of appeal is 
more circumscribed than that of citizens or foreigners with legal 
status.  Nevertheless, the Federal Court has overturned decisions by 
judges who were deemed to have implemented the new law improperly, 
without sufficient regard for the rights of asylum seekers.

The new law does not apply to noncriminal asylum seekers whose asylum 
applications continue to receive orderly consideration.  The Government 
cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other 
humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.

Refugees whose applications are rejected are allowed to stay temporarily 
if their home country experiences war or insurrection.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their 
government peacefully (at all local, cantonal, and federal levels), and 
citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and 
fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.  In addition, 
initiative and referendum procedures provide unusually intense popular 
involvement in the legislative process.

Participation by women in politics continues to expand.  Women were 
disenfranchised until 1971 at the federal level, but since then their 
participation in politics has expanded unabatedly.  Women occupy 41 of 
the 246 seats in the Parliament, 1 of 7 seats in the Federal Council 
(cabinet), and a record 16 in the cantonal government executive bodies.  
The Federal Office for Equality Between the Genders released a brochure 
intended to encourage and facilitate women's participation in the 
country's political life.  In addition, petitioners succeeded in 
collecting enough signatures to force a vote on mandated equal gender 
representation in all federal institutions.  A referendum on this issue 
will not take place for several years, given the legal process the 
proposal must follow.  In September voters rejected a local initiative 
to require a fixed percentage of elective seats for women.  

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International And 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

All major international human rights groups are active and operate 
without government restriction.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, 
sex, religion, language, or social status, and the Government 
effectively enforces these prohibitions.  To ensure that the disabled 
are in no way discriminated against or disadvantaged, a member of 
Parliament proposed in October a formal amendment to the Constitution 
for this purpose.


While there are no data about violence against women, indications are 
that a problem exists and that many cases go unreported.  The Federation 
of Women's Organizations and other groups have heightened public 
awareness on the problem of violence against women.  The law prohibits 
wife beating and similar offenses, and spousal rape is explicitly 
considered a crime in the Penal Code.  The Penal Code also criminalizes 
sexual exploitation and trafficking in women.  The authorities 
effectively enforce these laws.  Victims of violence can obtain help, 
counseling, and legal assistance from specialized offices sponsored by 
local and cantonal authorities.

Although the Constitution prohibits all kinds of discrimination, some 
laws still tend to discriminate against women.  However, the Government 
is taking effective action against this, and Parliament has recently 
passed significant legislation improving the treatment of women.  
Amendments to the law on gender equality were approved by the two houses 
of Parliament and were to have come into force in January 1996.  Their 
goal is to facilitate lawsuits by individual women (or organizations 
representing them), to reduce the burden of proof on female plaintiffs 
in discrimination cases (or even reverse it in some instances), and to 
strengthen the authority of the Federal Office for Equality.  In August 
the Government transmitted to Parliament for ratification the 1987 U.N. 
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against 

Significant disparities still exist between the wages received by men 
and women.  Despite the statutory requirement of equal pay for 
equivalent work, some studies (whose veracity cannot be confirmed) 
suggest that women's wages lag on average 15 percent behind those of 


The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights 
and welfare through a well-funded public education system and medical 
care.  The federal and cantonal governments, as well as organizations 
defending children's rights, in recent years have devoted considerable 
attention to possible abuses against children, especially sexual abuse.  
For convicted perpetrators of the latter, the law mandates imprisonment 
for up to 15 years.  In June 1994, the Government approved the 1989 U.N. 
Convention on Children Rights and transmitted the draft bill to 
Parliament for ratification, albeit with some reservations.  In 
addition, it decided in July to intensify its actions against child 
abuse.  The Government plans to subsidize a prevention and information 
campaign and the activities of groups defending children's rights.

  People with Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, 
education, or in the provision of other state services.  The Government 
has not mandated that buildings or transportation facilities be made 
accessible.  An umbrella organization representing most associations 
defending the rights of disabled persons participates actively in the 
political scene.  This organization is particularly active on issues 
concerning transport and mobility of the disabled, and their 
professional integration.  Disabled men will no longer be required to 
pay the tax on men who have not accomplished their military duty.

  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Reported attacks against foreigners (including abusive language) were 
less frequent in the first half of the year than during the same period 
of previous years.  Between January and June, 22 alleged racist attacks 
were reported compared to more than 90 for all of 1994.  Investigations 
of these attacks are conducted effectively and lead in most cases to the 
arrest of the responsible persons.  Persons convicted of racist crimes 
are commonly sentenced to at least 1 year's imprisonment.

In accordance with the country's first antiracism law which was approved 
in September 1994 (and which criminalizes racist and anti-Semitic 
actions or public speech), the Government appointed in August a new 
commission against racism.  This group of experts will focus on 
preventive measures and will serve as a mediator for conflicts between 

Section 6   Worker Rights

  a.  The Right of Association

All workers, including foreigners, have the freedom to associate freely, 
to join unions of their choice, and to select their own representatives.  
The Government does not hamper the exercise of these rights.  About one-
third of the work force is unionized.  

The right to strike is legally recognized and freely exercised, but a 
unique labor peace under an informal agreement between unions and 
employers--in existence since the 1930's--has meant fewer than 10 
strikes per year since 1975.  There were no significant strikes in 1995.

Unions are independent of government and political parties, and laws 
prohibit retribution against strikers or their leaders.  Unions can 
associate freely with international organizations.

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

By law, workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively, and 
the law protects them from acts of antiunion discrimination.  The 
Government fully respects these provisions.  Periodic negotiations 
between employer and worker organizations determine wages and other 
labor matters at the national and local levels.  Nonunion firms 
generally adopt the terms and conditions fixed in the unions' collective 

There are no export processing zones.

  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although there is no specific constitutional or statutory ban on forced 
or compulsory labor, it does not occur.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment of children is 15 years, and children are 
in school up to this age.  Children over 13 years may be employed in 
light duties for not more than 9 hours a week during the school year and 
15 hours otherwise.  Employment of youths between ages 15 and 20 is 
strictly regulated; they cannot work at night, on Sundays, or under 
hazardous or dangerous conditions.  The Federal Office for Industry, 
Trade, and Labor effectively enforces the law on working conditions.

  e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage.  The lowest wages fixed in collective 
bargaining are always adequate to provide a decent standard of living 
for workers and their families.

The Labor Act established a maximum 45-hour workweek for blue- and 
white-collar workers in industry, services, and retail trades, and a 50-
hour workweek for all other workers.  The law prescribes a rest period 
during the workweek.  Overtime is limited by law to 120 hours annually.

The Labor Act and the Federal Code of Obligations contain extensive 
regulations to protect worker health and safety.  There have been no 
reports of lapses in the enforcement of these regulations, but the 
degree to which enforcement is effective is unclear.  The Government is 
currently overhauling the 1948 Labor Act, in part to strengthen 
provisions for workers' health and safety.  A worker may opt out of a 
dangerous assignment without penalty.


[end of document]


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