Executive Summary

The Swiss Confederation is a constitutional republic with a federal structure. Legislative authority resides in a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly) consisting of the 46-member Council of States and the 200-member National Council. Federal elections in 2015 were generally considered free and fair. Parliament elects the executive leadership (the seven-member Federal Council) every four years, and did so in 2015. A four-party coalition made up the Federal Council.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, are statutory offenses for which penalties range from one to 10 years in prison. The government effectively prosecuted individuals accused of such crimes.

NGOs such as Terre des Femmes, Vivre Sans Violence, and the umbrella organization for women’s shelters noted that violence against women remained a serious problem. Domestic violence against migrant women was four times higher than against nonmigrant women. The law penalizes domestic violence and stalking. A court may order an abusive spouse to leave the family home temporarily.

Specialized government agencies, numerous NGOs, and nearly a dozen private or government-sponsored hotlines provided help, counseling, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence. Official women’s shelters had average occupancy rates between 70 and 90 percent. Most cantonal police forces included specially trained domestic violence units.

On November 25, the NGO Feminist Peace Organization organized a campaign supported by several cantonal governments on the influence of gender stereotypes on violence against women that included approximately 50 participating organizations and 70 public awareness events across the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. No cases of FGM/C were brought to court in 2016, and there was no concrete evidence that FGM/C occurred in the country. According to government and NGO estimates, approximately 15,000 women and girls, primarily from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, were affected by, or at risk of, FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and facilitates legal remedies for those claiming discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Special legal protection against the dismissal of a claimant expires after six months. Employers failing to take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment are liable for damages up to the equivalent of six months’ salary.

A national survey published in April by local newspaper 20 Minuten found that 44 percent of 2,700 surveyed women had experienced sexual assault at least once in their lives, while 41 percent had experienced sexual harassment, and 3 percent were victims of rape.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution and the law generally provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. A study commissioned by the Federal Office for Gender Equality and published in June by the University of Geneva found that judges dismissed 63 percent of all workplace discrimination cases brought to court by women. According to the study, lawsuits regarding salary discrimination were the most numerous. Judges reportedly dismissed 83 percent of sexual harassment cases and 90 percent of retaliatory termination cases.


Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; either parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a significant problem.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years. The law prohibits forced marriage and provides penalties of up to five years in prison for violations. To combat the problem, the Organization against Forced Marriage, together with the Bern city police, established a website where at-risk individuals could declare their unwillingness to be married while on foreign travel, which in turn allowed authorities either to stop vulnerable individuals from leaving the country or to pronounce the marriages as invalid upon their return.

The NGO observed a significant increase in forced marriages of minors, documenting in 2016 a total of 21 forced marriages of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 in the cantons of Bern, Zurich, and Solothurn. According to the NGO, Muslim clerics forcibly married 18 girls from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, Kosovo, and Macedonia, while Christian priests officiated at three weddings of Romani girls against their will.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The production, possession, distribution, or downloading of internet pornography that involves children is illegal and punishable by fines or a maximum sentence of one year in prison. With few exceptions, the law designates 16 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The maximum penalty for statutory rape is imprisonment for 10 years. The mandate of the federal police Cybercrime Coordination Unit included preventing and prosecuting crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children online.

The law prohibits prostitution of persons under the age of 18 and punishes pimps of children subjected to trafficking in commercial sex with prison sentences of up to 10 years. It provides for sentences of up to three years in prison for persons engaging in commercial sex with children.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.


According to the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FSCI), approximately 18,000 Jewish individuals resided in the country.

The 2016 Anti-Semitism Report, produced jointly by the SIG/FSCI and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism, cited 25 anti-Semitic incidents (excluding anti-Semitic online hate speech) in the German-speaking part of the country in 2016. The SIG/FSCI attributed the increase in recorded anti-Semitic statements and acts to a potential improvement in the reporting behavior of the public. The report documented two physical assaults against Jews.

In 2016 the Geneva-based Intercommunity Center for Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation reported 153 anti-Semitic incidents in the French-speaking region. The report noted an increase in anti-Semitic incidents motivated by the myth of a global Jewish conspiracy controlling the world. The report also observed a steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents on social media, primarily by right-wing extremist groups.

In November 2016 the Ministry of Interior’s Service for the Fight against Racism issued a report, Measures Taken by the Federal State to Combat Anti-Semitism in Switzerland. The report stated that while the government was required to protect Jews if they were at risk of attacks, “there is no constitutional or legal basis permitting the participation of the federal state in the security costs to protect Jewish institutions.” The report suggested Jewish organizations could create a foundation to finance the costs of providing security to Jewish institutions. The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities took issue with the recommendation in a public statement. In a report released by the Ministry of Interior in October, the government described the protection of Jewish institutions as an “issue of national importance.” According to the report, the government established an interdepartmental working group to assess potential security gaps in the protection of religious groups, including Jewish and Muslim communities. The Federal Office for Justice also founded a coordination office for religious issues during the year to improve the government’s handling of religious matters.

During the year authorities prosecuted several cases involving the display of Nazi symbols under the law that prohibits hate speech and spreading racist ideology. For example, in August the Federal Tribunal backed the cantonal court of Geneva’s sentencing of three men for violating the antidiscrimination law after they performed a gesture resembling the Hitler salute in front of Geneva’s Beth-Yaacov Synagogue in 2013. The court sentenced the men to suspended fines.

In August Israel’s ambassador reported to the Swiss foreign ministry that the Paradies Hotel in the resort village of Arosa posted signs, “To our Jewish guests, women, men, and children, please take a shower before you go swimming,” adding, “If you break the rules, I’m forced to close the swimming pool for you.” A second notice in the kitchen instructed “our Jewish guests” that they could only access the facility’s freezer between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. A spokesperson for the foreign ministry said the government condemns all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and federal law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced the prohibition. The law mandates access to public buildings and government services, including information and communications, for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.

The NGO Humanrights.ch noted the incarceration of patients in regular detention centers for up to 23 hours a day and the denial to detainees with mental disabilities of their right to free legal counsel (see also section 1.c.). In its 2016 report, the CPT noted that some persons were hospitalized in conditions that were inappropriate to their mental disabilities.

The Federal Equal Opportunity Office for Persons with Disabilities promoted awareness of the law and respect for the rights of individuals with disabilities through counseling and financial support for projects to facilitate their integration in society and the labor market.

In April the cantonal court of Appenzell Ausserrhoden sentenced a health spa to pay 34,000 Swiss francs ($34,000) in compensation to the disability organizations Procap, Pro Infirmis, and Insieme, which filed discrimination charges against the spa’s management for refusing five children with Down’s syndrome entry during a school visit in 2012. The spa reportedly told the children’s guardians that their “presence disturbed other guests.” The ruling was the first in the country’s history to approve a legal claim based on discrimination against persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Right-wing extremists, including skinheads, who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants, continued to be active.

In August the district court of Sion in the canton of Valais sentenced a lower house parliamentarian from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party to a suspended fine of 18,000 Swiss francs ($18,000) and an additional unsuspended fine of 3,000 Swiss francs ($3,000) for breaching the antiracism law after the man publicly condoned the 2015 killing of a Muslim in a St. Gallen mosque with the tweet, “We want more!” In April the Consulting Network for Racism Victims, a partnership between the NGO Humanrights.ch and the Federal Commission against Racism, released its report for 2016, documenting an increase in racism against dark-skinned individuals and persons of Arab background. Anti-Muslim incidents were the third most-recorded cases of racism, after general xenophobia and racism against persons with dark skins. The report noted that most incidents of racial discrimination were verbal and occurred primarily in the workplace, although 15 incidents involved physical attacks against members of minorities.

The Romani association Romano Dialogue reported discrimination against Roma in the housing and labor markets and that many Roma routinely concealed their identity to prevent professional and private backlash. Romani representatives told local media that perceptions of uncleanliness, criminality, street begging, and lack of education continued to dominate the public’s view of Roma. According to the Society for Threatened Peoples, itinerant Roma, Sinti, and Yenish regularly faced arbitrary stops by police.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or specifically address LGBTI problems. There were occasional reports of societal violence or discrimination based on opposition to LGBTI orientation.

As of September, a central office for collecting data and publishing statistics on verbal and/or physical attacks against LGBTI individuals recorded six cases. The umbrella organization for gay men, Pink Cross, reported that bullying in the work place remained a problem for LGBTI persons and noted that there were instances of discrimination against LGBTI individuals in the housing market. The organization also noted that authorities did not specifically prosecute hate crimes.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were occasional reports of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. To combat harassment and unfair behavior, the Swiss AIDS Federation conducted multiple campaigns to sensitize the public to the problem.

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