Nigeria is one of three states (called the Troika) tasked by the 47 member-states of the UN Human Rights Council to examine Switzerland’s second report on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights situation in that country since the first UPR procedure four years ago. The report which will be examined on October 29, 2012 is coming hot on the heels of a similar review carried out by the Council of Europe’s human rights chief Thomas Hammarberg, who earlier this year called for an overhaul of Swiss anti-discrimination law and policy in the face of rising intolerance and racism.
According to latest figures released by the Federal Commission against Racism and the non-governmental Humanrights.ch, reported cases of racism against blacks and Muslims in 2011 stood at 156. Though this figure is slightly down from 178 in 2010, the Swiss online newspaper, swissinfo.ch reports that this is just the tip of the iceberg as many cases go unreported due to victims’ unwillingness to launch long, expensive cases which may expose them and endanger their job, residence permit or family.
Despite government’s funding on integration and migration projects across the country aimed at combating discrimination and making the citizenry more receptive and accommodating, the past couple of months have witnessed a number of alleged discrimination cases against foreigners and Muslims involving political figures, mainly from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.
One such case opened last month with the Zurich public prosecutor’s office involving Alfred Heer, a People’s Party parliamentarian, who speaking on Tele Zuri, a regional TV programme said Tunisian asylum seekers come to Switzerland “with the aim of becoming criminals”. But Heer’s claim of parliamentary immunity makes it difficult for him to be prosecuted in a court of law. In Bern, the public prosecutor’s office is also looking into a case of alleged discriminatory remarks brought against Ulrich Schlüer, a former People’s Party parliamentarian and a key figure behind the infamous “black sheep” campaign.
In its submitted second UPR report to be examined by the Troika in Geneva early next week, the country’s federal agency noted how Swiss politicians could make xenophobic statements “to a large extent without fear of criminal sanctions” in a country where migrants and asylum seekers are “not accorded adequate protection from xenophobia and racism in certain areas of life”.
The Federal Commission Against Racism is therefore calling for a tougher government approach on politicians who make public discriminatory remarks. According to Doris Angst, the commission’s director, “racism as a political propaganda instrument is not dealt with adequately by the courts,” which tend to favour freedom of expression over racial discrimination.
While Switzerland braces itself for the outcome of the Troika’s report which is expected to be published on October 31, 2012, Michele Galizia, the country’s head of the anti-racism service at the interior ministry maintains that the state of affairs in Switzerland is reflective of his country’s direct democracy and federalist political system. “It’s true that there is a risk of verbal faux-pas but it is better to discuss openly even touchy questions, rather than let them smoulder on,” he commented.
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