Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a statutory offense. Penalties for rape 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 resulted in the deaths of 36 individuals in 2015. In 2015 police registered 17,297 cases linked to domestic violence or domestic abuse. 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 victims of domestic violence. Official women’s shelters had average occupancy rates between 70 and 90 percent, and many shelters reached 100 percent capacity, particularly in the northwest of the country. Demand for shelter space regularly exceeded capacity, with some victims turned away and housed in alternative accommodations, such as in hotels or specialized institutions. A special unit in the Office for Gender Equality of the Federal Department of Home Affairs focused on domestic violence. Most cantonal police forces included specially trained domestic violence units. A majority of cantons had administrative units to coordinate the activities of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and victims assistance groups.
A 2014 report on local women’s shelters published by the conference of cantonal social directors concluded that most victims were foreign women from low-income families and that a three-fold increase in shelter spaces was needed nationally to assist all survivors adequately. The report further cited a lack of financial resources and a discrepancy in services offered across the cantons.
On November 25, the NGO Christian Peace Service organized a government-supported campaign 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. For the period 2016-19, the Federal Office for Health and the SEM committed to support an information, counseling, and prevention network against FGM/C run by the NGOs Caritas, Terres des Femmes, Sexual Health Switzerland, and the SCHR. The NGO Caritas, however, criticized the continued absence of a national strategy against FGM/C and a lack of cantonal programs on the issue.
No cases of FGM/C were brought to court in 2015. 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.
In 2014 the women’s human rights organization Terre des Femmes, in conjunction with the Federal Office of Public Health, published an assessment of FGM/C in the country. Several federal offices, in collaboration with NGOs and academic institutions, implemented educational and preventative measures aimed at vulnerable communities and relevant authorities, including a mediation service. The cantons of Geneva, Neuchatel, Vaud, and Fribourg carried out selective awareness-raising activities and measures, while other cantons began similar awareness-raising efforts.
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, however, is only temporary. Employers failing to take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment are liable for damages up to the equivalent of six months’ salary.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: The constitution and the law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in matters of labor and employment. The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The civil law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in matters of property and inheritance. In 2015 parliament passed revisions to the civil law ensuring a more equitable division of pension funds during divorce retroactive to all divorces since 2000.
In November a UN report concluded that prevailing stereotypes about the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society, along with “deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes,” impeded progress on gender equality. The report further stated that stereotyped media portrayals and negative images of ethnic minority women and migrant women undermined their ability to integrate into society.
A 2014 report of the Federal Office for Gender Equality and the Federal Commission on Women outlined progress in women’s education levels and earning potential over the previous 15 years. Despite advances, the report concluded educated women were twice as likely to be poor than educated men, mostly because women remained the primary family caregivers and were not monetarily compensated for the time spent caring for their children or other relatives. The report highlighted that 19 percent of women (compared with 7 percent of men) were low wage earners in 2010, which, coupled with their primary caregiver responsibilities, exposed them to a high poverty risk and negative consequences in the labor market and social security system. Many cantons and some large cities had equality offices to handle gender problems.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; a single parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately. There are no negative repercussions for delayed registration in cases of home delivery.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a significant problem. In 2015 an expert group for child protection in children’s clinics registered 1,388 cases of child abuse, of which 20 percent involved sexual abuse and 28 percent physical abuse. The group observed a noticeable increase in psychological abuse, which constituted 31 percent of reported cases. It expressed concern over the high rate of infant victims, with 18 percent of the registered children under the age of one year. As in 2014 one infant died from physical abuse. Approximately 20 percent of cases involved neglect. Doctors filed criminal charges against abusive parents in 85 instances.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years. The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for penalties of up to five years in prison, and denies permission to enter the country to visa applicants suspected of involvement in a forced marriage. Victims of forced marriage already residing in the country may remain and may change their marital status from “married” to “single” without a requirement to record a divorce. According to police statistics, 13 individuals were victims of forced marriage in 2015 (see also section 2.d.).
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.
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 law permits consensual sex below the age of 16 in cases where one partner is not more than three years older than the other. The maximum penalty for statutory rape is imprisonment for 10 years. The Cybercrime Coordination Unit’s mandate 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 underage prostitutes 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 an underage prostitute.
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 as of November. The largest Jewish communities were in Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, and Bern.
In 2015 the SIG/FSCI recorded a marked decrease in anti-Semitic statements, acts, and online activity, which it attributed to the de-escalation of the Gaza conflict and greater social awareness from the widespread media coverage of the many anti-Semitic incidents and subsequent criminal investigations that occurred in 2014. The 2015 Anti-Semitism Report, produced jointly by the SIG/FSCI and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism, cited 16 anti-Semitic incidents (excluding anti-Semitic hate speech online) in the German-speaking part of the country in 2015, a quarter of the number in 2014. The report documented two physical assaults against Jews.
In 2015 the Geneva-based Intercommunity Center for Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation (CICAD) reported 164 anti-Semitic incidents in the French-speaking region, of which it deemed 11 serious. Although CICAD also recorded a decrease in anti-Semitic incidents, the report stressed that the number of documented incidents in 2015 was among the highest during its 12-year existence. The report also noted that the most anti-Semitic incidents occurred during January and February following the terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. According to local media reports, concerns within the Jewish community about the increased terror threat against Jews prompted the Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection, and Sport to establish a working group to devise adequate protection measures for Jewish institutions.
In January the public prosecutor’s office of the canton of Ticino initiated criminal proceedings against a police sergeant for posting pictures and quotes by Hitler and Mussolini on his Facebook page. The public prosecutor sentenced the man to a suspended monetary fine for inciting racism.
In November the SIG lodged a police complaint against a neo-Nazi group for song lyrics calling for the death of Swiss Jews. The group had also issued death threats against leading Swiss Jews, among them SIG/FSCI President Herbert Winter, and targeted politicians and other public personalities. In October neo-Nazi groups held two concerts, one of which an estimated 5,000 far-right activists attended.
As part of the national census, the Federal Council completed a five-year pilot project in 2015 to survey racist and discriminatory sentiments nationwide, including racism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and intolerance. Anti-Semitic attitudes remained stable throughout the test period, with one participant in 10 admitting to negative opinions about Jews in each of the biannual surveys.
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 in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced the prohibition. The law mandates access to public buildings and government services for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.
The CPT reported that some persons were hospitalized in conditions inappropriate to their mental disabilities. Those in high-security confinement were isolated with strictly minimal contacts with the staff and then through bars and occasional contacts with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
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.
Procap, one of the country’s largest organizations for persons with disabilities, noted that pensioners with disabilities often struggled to maintain their living standards, with up to 40 percent relying on supplementary benefits. In 2015 several other NGOs criticized the canton of Zurich for being unprepared to deal with and care for an increasing number of persons with disabilities reaching retirement age.
In June the government released its first report for implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The report concluded that the country’s equality law for persons with disabilities, the revisions to the federal disability insurance, and the adult protection law had brought about significant improvements for persons with disabilities. Procap however maintained that persons with disabilities remained disadvantaged in terms of sufficient access to postcompulsory education, general services, and leisure activities.
In August an NGO criticized the canton of Zurich for subsidizing the living costs of persons with disabilities only if they reside in assisted living institutions. The group called on the canton to provide more alternatives to assisted living and to allow persons with disabilities to decide freely the use of their individually assigned disability support funds.
In 2015 the Bern University of Applied Sciences released a study citing the lack of a direct and nonbureaucratic national contact point for reporting abuse against persons with disabilities. The report concluded that, despite the existence of a broad and diverse range of specialist units, the availability of services for such persons was confusing and unclear.
Right-wing extremists, including skinheads, who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants, continued to be active.
In July the public prosecutor’s office of the canton of Valais initiated criminal proceedings against a lower house parliamentarian from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) after the man publicly condoned the killing of a Muslim in a St. Gallen mosque in 2015 with a tweet that read “We want more!” The case was pending as of October.
In March the high court of Bern affirmed the criminal court of Bern-Mittelland’s 2015 sentencing of two members of the SVP for breaching the antiracism law following the publication of a poster in 2011 titled “Kosovars slice up Swiss citizens.” The poster was used to collect signatures for the anti-immigration initiative and referred to a Kosovar badly injuring a Swiss citizen in a violent incident several days prior to the launch of the anti-immigration campaign. The high court however reduced the sentences to suspended fines of 45 Swiss francs ($44) per day instead of the original suspended fines of 60 Swiss francs ($58) per day.
In June the Consulting Network for Racism Victims released its report for 2015, documenting an increase in racism against black persons and incidents of Islamophobia. While the report noted that most incidents of racial discrimination were verbal and occurred primarily in the workplace, 16 incidents involved physical attacks against minorities. The extent of right-wing populism and extremism remained unchanged over the previous year. The report examined 239 incidents, 16 of which involved ethnic profiling, compiled by 18 different consulting services. During the year the Federal Commission against Racism noted a lack of antiracism education in most public schools and stressed the need to address society’s growing xenophobia towards asylum seekers and refugees.
In November a UN report concluded that stereotyped media portrayals and negative images of ethnic minority women and migrant women undermined their ability to integrate into society.
Also in November the federal court declared a planned cantonal initiative by the SVP aimed at closing down the University of Fribourg’s Islam Center and preventing the local education of imams as invalid. The court ruled the initiative Islamophobic and in breach of the antidiscrimination law.
In 2014 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reported that individuals continued to use xenophobic and racist political discourse to target minority groups, such as Muslims, blacks, refugees, the Yenish, and Romani groups, thereby exacerbating their negative image and poor living conditions. Racial profiling subjected the black community in particular to police controls, such as public arrests and body searches for drugs.
While the government recognized the Yenish as a minority group with approximately 35,000 residents in the country, ECRI noted a persistent lack of proper camping facilities and transit areas. A September report by the publicly funded Future of Swiss Travelers Foundation concluded authorities created only one additional permanent camping ground between the years 2010 and 2015. The foundation’s director criticized the country’s French-speaking region for applying “a vindictive law” against travelers’ camping sites and residential caravans since 2014. During the year the Federal Office of Culture made more resources available to expedite the establishment of additional camping facilities and to raise greater social awareness about the needs of travelers.
The Swiss Roma Foundation estimated as many as 100,000 Roma resided in the country.
In July the Young Social Democrats of the canton of Bern and the Society for Threatened Peoples brought charges against a municipal councilor of the SVP for publicly stating “If you can’t recognize Gypsies by plain sight, you will eventually [recognize them] with your nose.” In September the Society for Threatened Peoples along with several Romani organizations pressed charges against a city hall member of the Green Liberal Party in Biel for publicly stating that all Roma lie, steal, and vandalize.
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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (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 established by LGBTI activists recorded six cases. The LGBTI umbrella NGO Pink Cross attributed the low number of cases to a lack of publicity surrounding the new office. In May a study on discrimination protection by the SCHR found that LGBTI persons experienced discrimination in the labor and housing market, while also noting problems of unequal access to general services and the judicial system.
The NGO Pink Cop (gay and lesbian police officers) noted authorities did not specifically prosecute hate crimes.
The NGO Transgender Network Switzerland criticized the requirement that changes of name and gender in official records require proof of prior diagnosis of a psychological disorder and medical procedures related to gender reassignment. The NGO also noted inadequate documenting of discrimination and hate crimes against transgender individuals and the absence of a national strategy for combating all forms of transphobia. According to the NGO, foreign and/or minor transgender individuals were at greater risk of discrimination.
In May the cantonal court of Graubuenden dismissed charges filed by Pink Cross and the Lesbian Organization of Switzerland against the bishop of Chur for inciting violence against LGBTI persons in a speech in Germany in 2015 during which he recited the passage of the Bible: “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Graubuenden’s state prosecutor dismissed the same charges against the bishop at the end of 2015. According to Pink Cross, the organizations received many hateful telephone calls and letters from supporters of the bishop following the filing of charges.
In September the Federal Office for Gender Equality financed the online publication of support brochures about how to deal with disclosing one’s gender identity in the work place. The brochures were part of a project launched by the Federal Office for Gender Equality in 2014 about problems affecting transgender persons in the workplace. The overall project was led by the Transgender Network and continued as of October.
In July parliament approved a law granting LGBTI individuals the right to adopt their partners’ children. The law does not however grant LGBTI couples the right jointly to adopt children who are not biologically related. The law had not entered into force by November.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were occasional reports of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In 2015 the Swiss AIDS Federation registered 116 cases of discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV. Some 14 of the complaints concerned employment discrimination or other discrimination in the workplace (see section 7.d.). To combat harassment and unfair behavior, the Swiss AIDS Federation conducted multiple campaigns to sensitize the public to the problem.