Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, are statutory offenses for which penalties range from one to 10 years in prison. The government effectively enforced the law and prosecuted individuals accused of such crimes. The rape of a man is considered “sexual assault.” As with the rape of women, the courts may hand down maximum prison sentences of up to 10 years against those convicted of sexual abuse of men, but a minimum sentence of 12 months is only applicable in cases of rape against women.
NGOs such as Geneva-based Association for Assistance of Intimate Partner Violence, Terre des Femmes, Amnesty International Switzerland, and the Umbrella Organization for Swiss 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, including 19 women’s shelters, and nearly a dozen private or government-sponsored hotlines provided help, counseling, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence. Most cantonal police forces included specially trained domestic violence units. According to a study by the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Social Affairs, shelters rejected almost one-half of all shelter applicants because of a lack of space and resources. According to a report by Swiss Radio and Television, the Zurich cantonal police on average responded to domestic violence 12 times a day, while on average every two weeks a woman or girl was killed by domestic violence.
In May a study by the research institute Swiss Society of Practical Social Research gfs.Bern commissioned by Amnesty International Switzerland found that 12 percent of women had been forced into nonconsensual sexual intercourse, while 59 percent experienced sexual harassment in the form of unwanted physical contact.
In October the Federal Office for Justice revised the Victim Assistance Law to raise state compensations for victims of severe sexual violence, including rape and prolonged child sex abuse, up to 70,000 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars. The revision also introduced for the first time compensations of up to 40,000 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars for violence victims suffering from severe psychological trauma.
On November 25, the NGO Feminist Peace Organization launched a 16-day campaign supported by several cantonal governments on violence against older women. More than 100 organizations participated, and they sponsored more than 100 public awareness events across the country.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While FGM/C was not a practice in the country, approximately 14,700 women and girls, primarily from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, were affected by, or at risk of, FGM/C. The first-ever criminal sentence under the anti-FGM/C law was handed down in 2018. In February the Federal Court rejected an appeal by a Neuchatel-based Somali woman whom the cantonal court of Neuchatel sentenced to an eight-month suspended prison sentence in July 2018 for ordering the full or partial removal of her six- and seven-year-old daughters’ genitalia while in Somalia and Ethiopia between 2013 and 2015.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment of men and women 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.
The cantonal police of Bern, the Zurich city police, and the city government of Lausanne conducted public information campaigns against sexual harassment during the year. Lausanne city officials maintained an online platform for victims to record instances of sexual harassment and provided extra training to police officers and teachers on the matter.
In May a study published by the gfs.Bern research institute and commissioned by Amnesty International Switzerland found that 56 percent of women experienced sexual harassment on the street and 46 percent on public transport. Some 60 percent of respondents between the ages of 16 and 39 years reported they also faced sexual harassment on social media.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution and the law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively but did not sufficiently address employment discrimination and pay disparities affecting women.
The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report noted that women faced unequal career opportunities, with only 34 percent of women occupying leadership positions in the labor market. A study published by the Federal Statistics Office in January found that women in the private sector earned almost 20 percent less than their male counterparts in 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. According to the study, almost 43 percent of the wage difference could not be attributed to factors such as age or seniority. Women in political leadership roles, however, increased during the year. Following the federal parliamentary elections in October and runoff elections in November, women made up 43 percent of representatives in parliament’s lower house and 26 percent in parliament’s upper house (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; either parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits parents from using corporal punishment to discipline their children, and the constitution states that all children have the right to special protection of their integrity. The law provides penalties for child abuse of up to three years in prison. New guidelines for protecting children came into effect on January 1. The guidelines obligate anyone in regular contact with a child, including doctors, lawyers, and psychologists, to notify authorities of suspected abuse, despite their professional confidentiality. Studies found that child abuse was a significant problem. A June 2018 study by the UBS Optimus Foundation found that up to 50,000 children were registered with child protection authorities each year due to child abuse. The Swiss Society of Pediatrics (SSP) registered 1,502 cases of child abuse in 2018, 230 fewer cases than in 2017. The most common form of child abuse was physical abuse, totaling 435 cases, followed by approximately 405 cases of neglect. According to the SSP, three children died from physical abuse, while one third of all children affected by abuse were younger than four years.
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. The federal government announced in January 2018 it would financially support the NGO Organization against Forced Marriage in its prevention activities over the next four years, including maintaining a website where at-risk individuals could declare their unwillingness to be married while on foreign travel. The website enabled authorities either to stop vulnerable individuals from leaving the country or to pronounce the marriages as invalid upon their return.
In 2018 the Organization against Forced Marriage assisted in 119 cases of child marriages, its highest number ever. The NGO stated up to 11 persons affected by early or forced marriage contact the organization every week, with every third person being a minor. According to the NGO, most victims are Iraqi and Syrian Kurds or come from Turkey, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. 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. According to SSP statistics, nearly 300 children were sexually abused in 2018.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FSCI), approximately 18,000 Jewish individuals resided in the country.
The 2018 Anti-Semitism Report, produced jointly by the SIG/FSCI and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism (GRE), cited 577 anti-Semitic incidents, including 535 cases of anti-Semitic online hate speech, in the German-speaking part of the country in 2018. The SIG/FSCI and GRE attributed the increase in recorded anti-Semitic statements and acts to their revised research and reporting methods, which included the documentation of online anti-Semitic hate speech and more proactive and independent research of anti-Semitic incidents. The report documented one incident of assault against Jews involving a man following a group of Orthodox Jewish men and threatening them with a knife and yelling anti-Semitic insults. There were no reports of how security officials handled the incident.
In 2018 the Geneva-based Intercommunity Center for Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation reported 174 anti-Semitic incidents, including approximately 111 cases of online anti-Semitic hate speech, including insults and Holocaust denials on social media sites such as YouTube, in the French-speaking region. The report noted a resurgence of right-wing extremist activities and anti-Semitic incidents. The report also observed a continued rise in anti-Semitic incidents online from right-wing, left-wing, and Islamic groups, 21 percent of which were motivated by the myth of a global Jewish conspiracy controlling the world. The report further mentioned the growing trivialization of the Holocaust under the guise of “childish jokes.”
On November 1, a decree providing 500,000 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars annually in federal grants for the enhanced protection of religious minority institutions, notably of the Jewish and Muslim communities, went into effect. The funds are aimed at cofinancing the communities’ infrastructural, technical, and organizational security measures, including establishing walls, security cameras, alarm systems, and organizing risk identification and threat-awareness trainings. The federal government’s decision to allocate the funds followed a 2017 report by the Ministry of Interior, in which the government described the protection of Jewish institutions as an “issue of national importance.”
In May local media reported on the formation of an allegedly neo-Nazi group called White Resistance comprised of three men and one woman, that spread hate speech, including statements on ethnic cleansing, against Jews and foreigners on social media. The group reportedly also met in April to discuss potential attacks against Jewish and foreign communities. According to the report, the intelligence services continued to monitor the group.
In August anonymous persons painted swastikas several days in a row on the advertising posters of a local bank in Muellheim in the canton of Thurgau.
In July 2018 a German national armed with a knife yelled anti-Semitic statements while following three Jews on their way to a Zurich synagogue. Police arrested the man that evening and released him shortly afterwards.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services, and the government generally enforced the prohibition. While the government generally enforced these provisions, the umbrella organization for disability NGOs, Inclusion Handicap, stated that the Federal Court maintained a “very narrow interpretation” of discrimination, which required plaintiffs to prove malicious intent in discrimination complaints, resulting in insufficient legal protection for disabled persons.
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 canton of Zurich launched a Department for Disability Policy aimed at devising an action plan for implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In January, Inclusion Handicap submitted to the Federal Court a complaint about the inability of persons with disabilities independently to access a new fleet of trains procured by the Swiss Federal Railways, calling on the government to suspend the fleet’s operational license. A test phase had found that the wheelchair ramps were too steep for persons with disabilities to board the trains on their own. The Federal Administrative Court had previously rejected the complaint in November 2018. The case was pending at the Federal Court as of October.
Inclusion Handicap and one of the country’s largest disability organizations, Procap, stated that persons with mental disabilities faced increasing difficulties finding employment. Procap also observed a growing number of persons with disabilities living in poverty, due to disability insurance benefits falling short of allowing such persons to live above the poverty income level. The NCPT stated that some psychiatric clinics did not separate underage patients from adults.
In May 2018 the government published a report on the situation of persons with disabilities, which concluded that they still lacked equal access to the labor market, health-care services, and housing, as well as to recreational and cultural activities. In response to the findings, the government ordered two new staff members to be added to the Federal Equal Opportunity Office for Persons with Disabilities to assist with the implementation of two new programs, one to increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, the other to enable a more independent life style by better addressing individual needs of persons with disabilities.
Extremists, including skinheads, who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants, continued to be active based on media and police reports.
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 2018, recording 278 cases of discrimination and 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 most incidents of racial discrimination involved written and verbal insults that occurred primarily in the workplace and at school. The report documented two instances of physical attacks by use of a weapon and arson.
In September the regional court of Emmental-Oberaargau in the canton of Bern fined a man 500 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars and issued him an additional suspended fine of 2,000 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars for distributing a self-recorded video in which he used racial slurs against a Kenyan man washing the man’s car.
According to Romani interest groups, including the Romano Dialogue and the Roma Foundation, discrimination against Roma in the housing and labor markets persisted, with many Roma routinely concealing 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. In January a regional court in the canton of Bern sentenced two leaders of the youth branch of the Swiss People’s Party to separate fines of 3,300 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars and 3,600 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars for violating the antiracism law for posting an illustration on Facebook that depicted a man in traditional Swiss dress holding his nose in front of a pile of rubbish belonging to a caravan community. The image was accompanied by the text, “We say NO to transit sites for foreign gypsies!”
In June 2018 the government rejected an official request submitted by Romani organizations to recognize Roma as a national minority. According to the government, Roma did not sufficiently display determination to “safeguard a common Swiss identity” nor did enough members have Swiss citizenship or longstanding ties to the country. The Society for Threatened Peoples called the decision discriminatory in light of the government’s recognition of Sinti as a national minority in 2016.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. According to media, there were multiple reports of societal violence or discrimination based on opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status.
The umbrella organization for gay men, Pink Cross, stated that violence against LGBTI individuals remained a significant problem and that the organization’s helpline received on average four calls per week regarding violent attacks against LGBTI persons. The organization, however, noted authorities did not specifically prosecute these as hate crimes. While multiple incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals did occur, there was no further evidence of violence as a significant problem. In May several men trashed an awareness-raising stand to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, and in June, three men attacked and physically injured a gay couple following Zurich’s Pride Parade. In September, five men beat up two young men kissing in public in Zurich, leaving them with broken teeth and several facial hematomas. Authorities arrested one perpetrator involved in destroying the awareness stand, while investigations continued in the other two cases.
Pink Cross and the NGO Transgender Network reported that bullying in the work place remained a problem for LGBTI persons and noted there were instances of discrimination against LGBTI individuals in the housing market.
In April an alliance of churches, the conservative Federal Democratic Union Party, the youth branch of the Swiss People’s Party, and the Youth and Family Working Group collected more than 50,000 signatures to hold a future referendum on whether to repeal a 2018 amendment to the antiracism law that criminalized discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, including expressions of homophobia. Proponents of the referendum claimed the new law infringes on freedom of expression and makes it difficult for pastors to quote “biblical truths.”
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. Most discrimination cases recorded by the federation involved private data violations, insurance discrimination, and discrimination in the provision of health services.