Strasbourg, 28/03/2012 – "Manifestations of racism and xenophobia appear to be on the rise in Switzerland. Disturbing political campaigns with aggressive, insulting slogans against foreigners are tendencies of great concern," stated Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, releasing a letter addressed to Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
"While recognising the value and importance of an open political debate, it has to be made clear that freedom of expression is not absolute: hate speech violating the rights of others is unacceptable. The Swiss criminal law needs to be overhauled in order to put an end to impunity for xenophobic and racist public discourse."
Commissioner Hammarberg added that "to fully meet European and international human rights standards, Switzerland needs to strengthen its anti-discrimination legislation". A comprehensive law against discrimination would help overcome the persisting deficiencies, not only when it comes to the rights of non-nationals but also for the protection and promotion of gender equality, the rights of disabled persons and of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
The Commissioner also voiced concerns about a recent decision to limit migrants' right to family unity and about further proposals to make such family reunification in Switzerland even more difficult. The principle of respect for the family life of migrants, as reflected in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court's case law, has for decades been part of the Swiss integration policies. It would be unfortunate if this positive tradition now were overturned, noted the Commissioner.
On the other hand, he welcomed the intention by the authorities to shorten the unduly lengthy asylum procedures, and introduce a comprehensive system of legal aid in order to safeguard fairness in asylum procedures. At the same time, the authorities were urged to make sure that no asylum seekers are transferred to Greece by virtue of the ‘Dublin Regulation', in compliance with the European Court of Human Rights' case law that has made clear that asylum seeking and protection in Greece is currently impossible.
Lastly, Commissioner Hammarberg underlined the need for independent and effective mechanisms of supervision, redress and prevention of human rights violations at all levels of the federal system. "Switzerland's human rights protection system would greatly benefit from the establishment of Ombudspersons in all cantons, complemented by a Federal Ombudsperson with a coordinative function and a long awaited National Human Rights Institution", stated the Commissioner. Good practices to be drawn upon, such as the city ombudspersons of Zurich and Basel, already exist.
Read the reply by the authorities of Switzerland.
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