Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices. There were isolated reports that individual police officers used excessive force while making arrests and that prison staff engaged in degrading treatment of detainees.
In May the High Court of Zurich acquitted on appeal two police officers accused of abuse of authority after the district court of Buelach sentenced them to suspended fines in March 2017 for using excessive force against a motorist during a road patrol check. The court overturned the earlier sentence, asserting that the officers’ behavior was “just barely acceptable” given that they called for back-up shortly after initiating the patrol check due to the driver’s alleged aggressive behavior.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, only 4 percent of reported cases of alleged abuse of authority resulted in convictions in 2017. Amnesty International attributed the low number of convictions to “enormous loyalty among officers and institutions” and called for independent investigators to handle charges brought against police officers.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Notwithstanding some inadequate and overcrowded facilities, prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards. There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding in the western part of the country remained a problem. Based on the most recent available information, Geneva’s Champ-Dollon Prison was the most crowded facility, with a population greater than 150 percent of design capacity.
In July the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture’s (NCPT) seventh annual report focused on detention centers’ psychiatric facilities, citing the absence of treatment plans and concerns over patients not being adequately informed of their therapy.
In 2017 the NCPT visited 18 detention centers in nine cantons to follow up on previous visits in earlier years. While the commission deemed overall conditions at the institutions to be adequate, the NCPT described detention centers for illegal migrants as “legally untenable” due to conditions often resembling pretrial detention. The committee also criticized the Realta detention facility in the canton of Grisons for long hours of incarceration, among other concerns.
Administration: There was no ombudsman or comparable authority available at the national level to respond to complaints, but a number of cantons maintained cantonal ombudsmen and mediation boards that acted on behalf of prisoners and detainees to address complaints related to their detention. Such resources were more readily available in the larger, more populous cantons than in smaller, less populated ones.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of conditions in prisons and asylum reception centers by local and international human rights groups, the media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) carried out its latest periodic visit to the country in 2015. Local groups enjoyed a high degree of independence.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The federal police maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Police report to the Federal Department of Justice and Police, while the army reports to the Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection, and Sport. The State Secretariat for Migration is responsible for granting immigrant visas and residence/work permits, evaluating asylum and refugee applications, and managing deportations; it reports to the Federal Department of Justice and Police. The Swiss Border Guard is responsible for registering asylum seekers and fighting illegal migration and transborder crime; it reports to the Federal Department of Finance.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police, the army, and the Swiss Border Guard, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Cantonal state prosecutors and police generally investigated security force violence, although in some cantons the ombudsman’s office investigated such cases. In addition to its coordination and analytical responsibilities, the Federal Office of Police may pursue its own investigations under the supervision of the attorney general in cases of organized crime, money laundering, and corruption.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law police must apprehend criminal suspects based on warrants issued by a duly authorized official unless responding to a specific and immediate danger. In most instances authorities may not hold a suspect more than 24 hours before bringing the suspect before a prosecutor or investigating magistrate, who must either formally charge a detainee or order release. Immigration authorities may detain asylum seekers and other foreigners without valid documents up to 96 hours without an arrest warrant.
There is a functioning bail system, and courts granted release on personal recognizance or bail unless the magistrate believed the person charged to be dangerous or a flight risk. Alternatives to bail include having suspects report to probation officers and imposing restraining orders on suspects. Authorities may deny a suspect legal counsel at the time of detention or initial questioning, but the suspect has the right to choose and contact an attorney before being charged. The state provides free legal assistance for indigents charged with crimes carrying a possible prison sentence. According to the CPT’s 2016 report, detainees often did not have access to a lawyer for several hours after arrest. Authorities may restrict family members’ access to prevent evidence tampering, but authorities require law enforcement officials to inform close relatives promptly of the detention. The CPT also reported that the right to inform the families of arrests “was not always recognized” and that “it was not uncommon” for the delay to last several hours. It condemned the denial of contacts, including visits and telephone calls, for up to several months for prisoners awaiting judgment.
The law allows police to detain minors between the ages of 10 and 18 for a “minimal period” but does not explicitly state the length. Without an arraignment or arrest warrant, police may detain young offenders for a maximum of 24 hours (48 hours during weekends).
Pretrial Detention: The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Humanrights.ch noted that lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, as it was in the previous year. In 2017 approximately 24 percent of all prisoners were in pretrial detention. The country’s highest court ruled pretrial detention must not exceed the length of the expected sentence for the crime for which a suspect is charged. Humanrights.ch alleged that authorities often used pretrial detention to pressure suspects into admitting guilt.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public and held without undue delay. Defendants are entitled to be present at their trial. They have the right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and the courts may provide an attorney at public expense if a defendant faces serious criminal charges. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They have the right to confront and question witnesses, and to present witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal, ultimately to the Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court. Sentences for youths up to age 15 may be for no longer than one year. For offenders between the ages of 16 and 18, sentences may be up to four years. Authorities generally respected these rights and extended them to all citizens.
Military courts may try civilians charged with revealing military secrets, such as classified military documents or classified military locations and installations. There were no reports that military courts tried any civilians during the year.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Citizens have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the European Court of Human Rights.
The government reported that Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue and that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory, were pending before authorities. The Jewish communities in Switzerland confirmed that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration were pending before authorities.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, although the law restricts speech involving racial hatred and denial of crimes against humanity. The government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, such as public incitement to racial hatred or discrimination, spreading racist ideology, and denying crimes against humanity, including via electronic means. It provides for punishment of violators by monetary fines and imprisonment of up to three years. There was one conviction under this law as of October.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law’s restriction on hate speech and denial of crimes against humanity also applies to print, broadcast, and online newspapers/journals. According to federal law, it is a crime to publish information based on leaked “secret official discussions.”
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, 90 percent of the adult population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities may detain asylum seekers who inhibit authorities’ processing of their asylum requests, subject to judicial review, for up to six months while adjudicating their applications. The government may detain rejected applicants for up to three months to assure they do not go into hiding prior to forced deportation, or up to 18 months if repatriation posed special obstacles. The government may detain minors between the ages of 15 and 18 for up to 12 months pending repatriation. Authorities generally instructed asylum seekers whose applications were denied to leave voluntarily but could forcibly repatriate those who refused.
Following media reports of asylum seekers younger than 15 being held in deportation prisons, authorities in the cantons of Zurich and Bern decided to stop incarcerating asylum seekers who are minors; the Federal Council announced in October that the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) will instead task cantons with establishing alternative accommodation for asylum-seeking minors. Members of parliament alleged that the practice breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Federal Council stated that the practice occurs very rarely.
In September the UN Committee against Torture called the SEM’s attempt to deport an asylum-seeking Eritrean torture victim back to Italy “inhumane” on the grounds that the man’s psychiatric condition required a re-examination. The SEM’s investigation into the case was pending as of November.
The SEM stated that many unaccompanied minors fled the country’s official reception centers after applying for asylum, and authorities were unable to verify their whereabouts. The NGO Terre des Hommes expressed concern over missing underage asylum seekers becoming victims of trafficking. Terre des Hommes further stated that some cantons did not consistently report disappearances of underage asylum seekers. According to data from the Federal Statistical Office, sexual violence in asylum housing was on the rise, with authorities recording 33 cases of sexual violence in 2017, including six cases of child sex abuse and eight rapes. NGO Terre des Femmes noted that asylum centers often restricted the private sphere and safety of female refugees, due to bedrooms and bathrooms not always being gender segregated. According to the NGO, perpetrators of sexual violence comprised asylum seekers, caregivers, and security personnel.
On July 12, the NCPT released its annual report on deportation flights. Between April 2017 and March, the country forcibly deported 317 persons, including 28 families and 28 children, to their countries of origin. The NCPT regarded the treatment of deportees as generally professional. The committee, however, criticized the deportation of seven-months’ pregnant women and the staggered repatriation of asylum-seeking families that led to the separation of family members during deportation. The committee continued to observe inconsistent deportation practices among the cantons.
NGOs working with refugees continued to complain that officials often effectively denied detained asylum seekers proper legal representation in deportation cases due to their financial inability to hire an attorney. Authorities provided free legal assistance only during the initial phase of the asylum application process and in cases of serious criminal offenses, deeming deportation of asylum seekers an administrative, rather than a judicial, process.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: While the government generally did not force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives or freedom may be threatened, there were reportedly exceptions. In July the Federal Administrative Court ruled Eritrean asylum seekers may still be deported to their home country even if they faced military conscription upon their return. The court stated that while conditions during Eritrean national service are reportedly difficult, they are not so severe as to make deportation unlawful. The court further concluded that cases of abuse and sexual assault were not widespread enough to influence the assessment. The ruling followed previous criticism by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants over the Administrative Court’s February 2017 decision to no longer grant protection to Eritrean asylum seekers who illegally departed their country.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government required asylum applicants to provide documentation verifying their identity within 48 hours of completing their applications; authorities, under the law, are to refuse to process applications of asylum seekers unable to provide a credible justification for their lack of acceptable documents or to show evidence of persecution.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The SEM relied on a list of “safe countries.” Asylum seekers who originated from or transited these countries generally were ineligible for asylum. The country is a signatory to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.
Employment: The law prohibits asylum seekers from working during the first three months following their arrival in the country, and authorities can extend that prohibition for an additional three months if the SEM rejects the asylum application within the first three months. After three months asylum seekers may seek employment in industries with labor shortages, such as in the hospitality, construction, healthcare, or agricultural sectors.
Access to Basic Services: The cantons assumed the main responsibility for providing housing, general assistance, and care to asylum applicants during the processing phase. Shortages of appropriate housing for asylum seekers remained a problem. Asylum seekers have the right to basic medical care, and the children of asylum seekers are entitled to attend school until ninth grade (the last year for which school is mandatory).
A study published in August 2017 by Bern’s University of Applied Sciences reported shortages in asylum centers’ health-care services for pregnant women. According to the report, a lack of translation services prevented patients from receiving adequate psychological support, while access to female-specific contraception was limited due to the unsubsidized cost of the prescription.
To accommodate increasing numbers of asylum seekers, the SEM continued to house hundreds of asylum seekers in remote rural areas or in decommissioned military establishments–several of them underground–retrofitted to serve as short-term housing. In May 2017 the SEM commenced a pilot project to end the ban on mobile phones for asylum seekers and took additional steps to provide suitable care for minor asylum seekers in federal centers.
Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government announced it would accept an additional 2,000 Syrian refugees until 2019 as part of a UNHCR resettlement program. In 2015 the government agreed to accept 3,000 Syrian refugees between 2015 and 2018 under the UNHCR resettlement program. As of August, 2,231 of these had arrived in the country.
Temporary Protection: In 2017 the government granted temporary admission to 8,419 individuals, 966 of whom the government designated as refugees.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2015 voters elected parliamentary representatives for the National Council and the Council of States. Runoff elections for the Council of States in 12 of the 26 cantons were completed the following month. Observers considered the elections free and fair.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.