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Switzerland

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. The Office of the Attorney General investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions.

b. Disappearance

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 and law prohibit 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. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the country’s courts convicted 11 persons for abuse of authority in 2019.

In June the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the state had violated the right to life of a 40-year-old man who hanged himself in 2014 after being left alone in solitary confinement for 40 minutes despite having made suicidal statements.

In May the Federal Supreme Court ruled the detention conditions in the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva violated the prohibition of torture according to the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The court found that a prisoner was held in a small cell for 234 days between 2014 and 2016. The prisoner was only allowed to walk for one hour a day and to exercise for three-to-four hours a week.

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. As of June 2019, Geneva’s Champ-Dollon Prison was the most crowded facility, with a population exceeding 160 percent of its design capacity. In March the prison’s population was reported to be 650 inmates, although the Champ-Dollon institution only offers space for 400 inmates.

In April prisons canceled visits, special leave, sporting activities, work, and school lessons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its Activity Report 2019, the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) found in several district prisons that “the critical air and light conditions in cells” were “particularly problematic.” The report also criticized the “very long cell confinement times” for all inmates. The commission considered “that the material concern of conditions, especially with regard to the size of the cells and other in view of the lack of light and fresh air, for a storage of more than 48 hours are unsustainable.” The NGO Humanrights.ch reported that “often prisoners sit in their small cells 23 hours a day, and there is not always enough daylight. The cells are often dark, narrow and spartan.”

In June the Swiss Competence Center for Human Rights (SCHR) released a study on applying the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules to improve prison conditions in the country. The study found that solitary confinement was widely used in pretrial detention and in prison and that external contacts of detainees were too restricted.

Humanrights.ch noted the biggest concerns in detention centers are the high suicide rate, lengthy pretrial detention, and the increasing use of preventive detention. According to Humanrights.ch, three quarters of convicted persons are sent to detention facilities rather than psychiatric clinics due to a lack of treatment options.

In May the Federal Court ruled that detention conditions must be assessed as a whole, regardless of any change in the status of pretrial or posttrial detention and that personal space of less than 43 square feet for more than three months violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

In May the SCHR released a study on administrative detention under immigration law which found that specialized facilities in the country lacked capacity.

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, media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2019 the NCPT visited 23 detention centers. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) carried out its latest periodic visit to the country in 2015.

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.

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 his or her release. Authorities respected these rights. 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.

The law allows police to detain minors between ages 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: Humanrights.ch claimed that lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Approximately 27.5 percent of all prisoners were in pretrial detention. The average length of time was 2.1 months. 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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

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 of their choice 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. Prison sentences for youths up to age 15 cannot exceed 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 divulging 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.

Property Restitution

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; Jewish communities in the country confirmed that no such claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration were pending. There remained much art in the country with unresearched provenance as many museums and art collections were under the purview of cantons rather than the federal government, or were maintained by private organizations and private individuals.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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.

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