Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Right Wing Party Shocks Again With Posters

The Swiss are voting on a proposal to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland.The ban was proposed by the conservative Swiss People’s Party, the largest party in the Swiss parliament. Supporters of the initiative see minarets as political symbols and signs of an increasing Islamic presence in Switzerland.

The right-wing party now has unveiled a campaign poster depicting a woman wearing a burka against a background of a Swiss flag upon which several minarets ressembling missiles were erected. It is aimed at getting the population to vote for a ban on minarets in Switzerland in a referendum on the issue in November.

The Swiss Commission Against Racism said Wednesday that the poster campaign defamed the country's Muslim minority. 'The commission believes that this could threaten social cohesion and public peace,' the government commission said in a statement.

The commission said it found that the posters 'feed prejudices, are over-simplistic and presents Islam overall in an unfavourable manner.' They 'suggest that the Muslim minority living in Switzerland represents a danger' and send the message that the Muslim population is seeking to dominate the Swiss people, oppress women and disregard fundamental rights, it noted.

The BBC reported that mosques in Switzerland tend to be found in old warehouses and factories. It said the largest mosque in the Swiss capital, Bern, is in a former underground parking garage. The broadcaster said Switzerland only has two small minarets, one in Zurich and one in Geneva.

More than 310,000 of Switzerland's 7.5 million population are Muslims, making Islam the second biggest religion in the country after Christianity.

Monday, May 21, 2007

202 Swiss Work in the UN-Secretariats

'Good Swiss' for the UN: Ambassador Maurer.
Of the same briefing as mentioned below, Matthew Lee also reports the following on Inner City Press. Interesting seems to process of prescreening Matthew writes about. And of course, the quote of the good Swiss, which Ambassador Maurer indeed used:

UN Withholds Nationality and Job Data Which Even Swiss Would Release, As Japan Wants More Posts

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 -- There is a publication which the UN withholds from the public, which lists staff of the UN Secretariat sorted by nationality. At the UN's noon briefing on May 17, when Inner City Press asked why the document is restricted, the UN Spokesperson replied that "there are things that go to the Member States. You are not a Member State that I know of. Okay?"

Later on May 17, Inner City Press interviewed Switzerland's Ambassador Peter Maurer, and asked if it is the UN's member states that demand that the list of who the UN hires and from where be kept secret. "We are certainly not a member state thinking that this should be secret," Amb. Maurer said.

The Spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, who said that transparency is one of his major goals, told Inner City Press on Thursday that this list, which only contains names, job rank and location and nationality, "can be consulted by a Member State but not by you." Unsaid is that, while not a solution and within any thanks to the Secretariat, a Member State can make some or all of the list available.

Switzerland had, as of the publication ST/ADM/R.60, 202 UN Secretariat jobs. (The figures in this report tally UN Secretariat jobs in all duty stations, including Geneva, Nairobi, Santiago, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Vienna, but not including jobs with funds and programs like UNICEF or the UN Development Program, which separately keeps track of each staff member's nationality, reputedly to trade posts for donations.)

While France had 1046 UN Secretariat jobs, Japan had only 213. Inner City Press on Thursday asked Japan's Deputy Permanent Representative Takahiro Shinyo about this. Amb. Shinyo replied that Japan's "is a very small number... we ask the Secretariat to give more chances." He added that job selection is "of course merit-based."

Amb. Maurer used the same term, saying that while a nation being "under-quota" meant that its nationals would be given a leg up in competition for UN jobs, they still have to be qualified. In fact, Switzerland pre-qualifies its nationals who apply to the UN. "We would like to make available to the UN good Swiss," he said. "It is a question of reputation, at the end of the day."

The question remains why this basic information -- names of UN staff members, the job level and location, their nationalities and pay-status -- is being withheld from the press and public. Names and locations, along with telephone numbers and email address protocols, are available in the UN phone book. So why is nationality, so often mentioned under the code word "geographic balance," still so taboo?

Swiss Ambassador: Discussions about Security Council Reform 'Almost Transcendental'

Again Matthew Lee of Inner City Press writes about the Swiss and the UN. Matthew neglects to mention that Switzerland has decided not to allow the contingent of
500 Iraqi refugees (see end of story.). Re Maurer's 'burst of candor': The Swiss Ambassador is usually very forthcoming and frank. Here's Matthew's story, unabridged:

At the UN, Clashing Stories on Council and Peacekeeping Reform, UNHCR on Swiss and Thailand

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 -- The Ban Ki-moon team insists that the General Assembly will by June 1 grant them a requested $65 million for the splitting of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in two. Meanwhile GA experts, already admonished by Team Ban for not being upbeat enough, privately tell Inner City Press such rubber-stamp passage of this amount of money is unlikely. Why did they start so late? It is not clear.
In another bit of cognitive dissonance, on Thursday Japan's Deputy Permanent Representative Takahiro Shinyo told reporters that there is still a chance that Security Council reform will be acted on in the less month-and-a-half.
Less than an hour later, eight blocks south, Swiss Ambassador Peter Maurer told a different group of reporters that "I am under no illusion we will find a solution on Security Council reform in this General Assembly." The smart money is on Amb. Maurer's position because, as he said, the Permanent Five members are basically not in favor of reform. He said if a serious proposal emerged that might command a significant majority, then and only then would the Permanent Five taken any interest.
In a burst of candor, over a conference table in the Swiss mission's 29th floor office over Third Avenue, Amb. Maurer laughed and said, "I know this sounds like something on another planet... transcendental." He recounted how in Switzerland's role in sports-promotion, it has more positive relations with countries such as Tunisia than it does when discussion, for example, the UN Human Rights Council (to which on Thursday Angola, Egypt and Qatar were elected, while higher-profile Belarus fell short).
Iraqi refugees per UNHCR (see below)
Amb. Maurer also mentioned Switzerland's collaboration with Tunisia on "World Information Society" events. He did not mention that during this process, Tunisia provided a highly censored version of the Internet. Amb. Maurer reiterated a point made in his speech in the ECOSOC chamber earlier in the day, that information technology improvements are needed not only in poor countries but also in the UN system, which he called "retarded when it comes to information and knowledge management."
In light of Switzerland's barring, at least temporarily, of refugees from Iraq, Inner City Press first asked the UN's refugee agency UNHCR for a comment, which Geneva-based Jennifer Pagonis provided:
"On the Swiss not taking Iraqis, we are disappointed with the outcome, as we are anxiously looking for countries that can take up vulnerable and uprooted Iraqis and Palestinians from Iraq who are or have been targeted and are fleeing/have fled persecution. We do however appreciate Switzerland's willingness to discuss the issue and we hope that Switzerland and UNHCR can continue discussing the potential resettlement of Iraqi/Palestinian and other refugees to Switzerland in the future."
Inner City Press asked Ambassador Maurer about the issue on Thursday afternoon. Amb. Maurer said it is a "political hot potato," and that it is his understanding that the Swiss foreign minister has proposed in a cabinet meeting that Switzerland accept a "continent" of 500 Iraqi refugees. We'll see.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Ban's Support for Geneva Criticized in New York

In a detailed report, Matthew from Inner City Press reports of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's comments in Switzerland, describing Geneva as "the biggest UN city". Bans support for Geneva had long been expected in Switzerland and was seen there as long overdue. Ban said in one of his speeches, he had "saved the best for last". This caused quite a discussion in the UN headquarters, as you can see below. Meanwhile, Swiss UN experts such as Simon Gemeperli from NZZ saw no firm committment to Geneva in reports on the Secretary General's visit to Switzerland.

In Geneva, Mr. Ban, the Swiss president, Mrs. Ban, the Swiss Ambassador to the UN in New York, Peter Maurer

In UNCA-gate, Mr. Ban's Dig from Geneva Leads to Speechwriter Questions in New York

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- Speaking at a dinner for the correspondents' association at the UN in Genera on April 21, Ban Ki-moon began with a statement which his spokesperson has since characterized as a joke, and which is quoted from below.

             Doubtless, there is a place for more humor in the UN system, on both sides of the Atlantic. And written transcripts cannot convey tone of voice or winks, if any. But the main job of a diplomat is to master communications. Lack of clarity, as the Federal Reserve's Alan Greenspan used to do it, should be intentional. It is difficult to imagine that the parochial echo in New York on Tuesday to Mr. Ban's Saturday remarks had been intended.

            First, here are Ban's remarks, as emailed to reporters by the UN on April 23:

SG: "Mr. President of the Correspondents Association in Geneva, Ladies and Gentlemen,

"It's a great honor and pleasure for me to meet all of you.  In fact, it is the first time for me to be invited by this whole Correspondents Association.  I have not even been invited by UNCA, the United Nations Correspondents Association in New York.  I hope that this fact, on the record, should be recorded from Geneva so that our people in New York know about this.  I am personally very much honored.  Normally I have been inviting journalists all the time in my life.  It's almost the first time for me to be invited by an association of correspondents like this one today, and I am very much personally honored by this event. And thank you very much for your warm welcome...

"There is one thing which I have found, new information, is that Geneva is the largest UN city in the world, even larger than the United Nations Headquarters in New York.  There are more international organizations, more diplomatic staff, more conference days in the year.  This is what I have found, in the sense that it may be a real sense of a headquarters of the United Nations."

            Tuesday at the UN's noon press briefing in New York, these statements were the subject to the first five questions, out of a total of only thirteen questions. Some are in true-jest now calling the matter "UNCA-gate," UNCA being pronounced Uhn-Cuh, the UN Correspondents Association.  Five reporters, like this one members of UNCA, fastened on the statement that "I have not even been invited by UNCA, the United Nations Correspondents Association in New York.  I hope that this fact, on the record, should be recorded from Geneva so that our people in New York know about this."

            People in New York asked what this meant:

Inner City Press: There was this, I am sorry if I missed this, there was this speech by Mr. Ban in Geneva, in which he said that they were the first Correspondents' Association...

Correspondent [UNCA President]:  I have to raise the issue officially.  The Secretary-General met with the Association of Correspondents last week in Geneva, and he told them that we here, [the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA)], have never invited him out.  So I wonder... and we have an official transcript of his remarks.  My colleagues were shocked by the remarks, to say it mildly.  I want to ask you, what was the reason for him to say that and why did he say that, in Geneva, while we had meetings with him here, in New York, at our invitation.  And I am pretty sure that he enjoyed the meetings, also.

Correspondent [UNCA Past President]:  And also, just to add, we did invite him to the annual UNCA dinner.  He was seated with the [inaudible].  So all proper courtesies were extended to him by UNCA.

Spokesperson:  Well, thank you to all three of you.  I am sorry these remarks created a misunderstanding, which I want to lift immediately.  It was meant in a light-hearted way by the Secretary-General.  It was referring to the irritation expressed by some members of the Geneva press corps that he was not able to travel to our second headquarters at the Palais des Nations until last week.  The comments were meant in jest, and not intended to be taken seriously.  I can assure you, that the Secretary-General is most appreciative of his meetings with UNCA, particularly the two gracious invitations extended by you to him early in his tenure and, most recently, for his 100 days in office.  He has told me how highly he values these informal exchanges and the exchanges he had with the correspondents' association.  And the work you do, covering the UN, is to him essential...

Inner City Press: In his talk there, he said that Geneva was the largest UN city in the world and that there were more international organizations and more diplomatic staff.  It may be the real UN headquarters.  I am wondering, I don’t know if that was a joke as well, but if anyone could get the numbers, to know what the basis of this is.  And also, I don't know if you will answer this, but who is writing his speeches now, like what is the process of that?

Spokesperson:  I don't know if that was a speech. [See below.] He just improvised that.  He was answering questions after a lunch.  It was not a speech in any way.

Inner City Press: Got you.  Can we get those numbers?

Spokesperson: Sure, sure, you can have those numbers on how many agencies there are in Geneva, how many people work there, that you can have.  No problem there.

Sunny Correspondent:  Just for the record, some in New York have advocated moving the UN out of New York, but… just for the record.

Correspondent [AP]:  I would just like to make a suggestion that, since the transcript does appear on the UN website, that perhaps there could be a note attached saying that this was said in jest.

Spokesperson:  Well, it is not right now on the website.  It has been sent to you, but it is not on the website.

Correspondent [UNCA President]:  Some diplomatic missions saw the transcript.  I got a reaction from some missions also.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Inner City Press:  Maybe there should be a section on the website for humorous speeches.

            This hasn't yet happened. As some correspondents remarked later on Tuesday, at first Mr. Ban's jokes were accorded laughter. His "Ban Ki-moon is coming to town" song at the UNCA Ball in December (click here to view), his referrals to himself as the Slippery Eel, a more recent statement -- to UNCA in New York, as it happens -- that "you all must be disappointed in me."  Some wondered: was he joking?

            And that may be the point. The UN Secretary General doesn't intrinsically have much power. It is a bully pulpit, or place from which to play diplomat. In that game, if you're going to joke, make sure it's funny, or at least, make sure people who read it will know it was intended as a joke.

            As documentation of Mr. Ban's statement that "Geneva is the largest UN city in the world, even larger than the United Nations Headquarters in New York," a spokesperson later on Tuesday gave Inner City Press a one-page print-out from the UN's Geneva web site, with a sentence highlighted that "with more than 1,600 staff, it is the biggest duty stations [sic] outside of the United Nations headquarters in New York." Inner City Press is informed that during his meeting with the Geneva UN staff union, Mr. Ban said he had "saved the best for last." And what to say in at the UN's hub in Nairobi?

            In answer to which speechwriter is traveling with Mr. Ban, contrary to the UN's written transcript quoted above, the spokesperson began "I don't know who wrote that" -- click here for video, at precisely Minute 10:25.

            On the question of Mr. Ban's speechwriters, it emerges that Edward Mortimer is gone, and that Richard Amdur is leaving. Coming in, Inner City Press is told, is Mike Myers -- not from Wayne's World or the bullpen, but from Newsweek. If this Mike Myers is taking the speechwriters job that was one of the 12 much-hyped mobility posts, that would be one that should be announced.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Swiss Push in Boston exhibition for Respect for Human Rights - Exhibition at Logan

Thanks to Rita Emch at Swissinfo for this:

A year after the constitution of the United Nations' Human Rights Council (HRC), the public will be able to view the exhibition at Logan airport's international terminal. Thirteen themes each illustrated by three pictures are meant to address specific aspects of human rights.

"We were trying to find a way of explaining how essential these rights are," Swiss law professor Walter Kälin told swissinfo in Boston. For Kälin, considered by many to be the spiritual founder of the HRC, human rights are among the most significant advances of modern civilisation.

"But they are under pressure," he added. "On one side from terrorists, and on the other from governments who consider that to fight terrorism they can ignore these fundamental rights." Kälin hopes the exhibition will help people deal with growing cynicism towards human rights. "If we can make people realise the relevance of human rights for themselves and others, we will have reached our goal," he said.

For Switzerland's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Blaise Godet, it is not just in the interest of states to ensure that human rights are respected, but also a duty. Speaking at the official opening of the exhibition on Monday, he said that to reach that goal, nations must give more support to the HRC and forget the meanderings of its discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Swiss Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein

ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) -- What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.

According to Swiss daily Blick, the 170 infantry soldiers wandered just over a mile across an unmarked border into the tiny principality early Thursday before realizing their mistake and turning back. A spokesman for the Swiss army confirmed the story but said that there were unlikely to be any serious repercussions for the mistaken invasion.

Officials in Liechtenstein played down the incident. Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. ''It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something,'' he said. Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Federspiel Found Dead

BASEL, Switzerland (AP) -- Juerg Federspiel, best known outside his native Switzerland as the author of ''The Ballad of Typhoid Mary,'' has died. He was 75. Federspiel had been missing since mid-January and his body was found on Sunday close to the border with France and Germany, local officials in his hometown Basel said. No cause of death was given, but Klaus Mannhart of the Basel safety department did not rule out suicide, saying there were no outward signs of injury.

Born near Zurich on June 28, 1931, Federspiel worked as a journalist, film critic, essayist and fiction writer, publishing over 20 novels and collections of stories. His books were translated into six languages and his best-known work in the English-speaking world is ''The Ballad of Typhoid Mary,'' based on the true story of a woman in early 20th-century New York who refused to accept that she was the source of numerous outbreaks of typhoid fever.

Federspiel was strongly influenced in his work by the prose style of the American short story, and he spent repeated periods of his life in New York. It was not immediately known whether Federspiel, who had been suffering from diabetes and Parkinson's disease in recent years, left behind any family.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Switzerland admits mediating Syria-Israel talks

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey divulges that her country arbitrated secret peace talks between Israel and Syria, at special press conference for the occasion of her election

Roee Nahmias
Latest Update: 01.22.07, 20:19
Original Article at: YNETNEWS

Switzerland mediated the secret peace talks between Israel and Syria which were exposed in the media last week, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey admitted Monday.

The recently elected Federal Council president revealed her country’s role in the Damascus-Jerusalem contacts during a press conference held for the occasion of her presidential appointment, Swiss media reported.

Former Foreign Ministry Director General Dr. Alon Liel was the Israeli representative at the unofficial talks, opposite Ibrahim Soliman , a Syrian American with close ties to Damascus.

Speaking to reporters at the Netanya Academic College last week, Dr. Liel admitted that the talks were mediated by a European country, whose identity he refused to divulge.

“Our only way of ascertaining that our counterparts were serious was sending someone to Damascus nearly every month to verify this,” Liel explained. He described the mediator as “a super-professional, super responsible European dignitary.”

Confirming Liel’s statements, Calmy-Rey said Monday that the mediator was in Syria at present, adding that Switzerland’s foreign affairs secretary would depart for Damascus next week.

Calmy-Rey served as Switzerland’s foreign minister last year and made multiple visits to Israel . She was known to make frequent non-neutral, activist comments which were not always well-received in Israel, and which contradicted the neutral stance of previous Swiss foreign ministers.

She made particular efforts to advance the recognition of Magen David Adom by the International Red Cross.

Her activism earned criticism within Switzerland as well, as her activism was often perceived as deviated from her country’s traditional policy of neutrality. She currently holds the topmost position in Switzerland’s political system.

The Swiss government, which represents the state’s various cantons, comprises a multi-party coalition, making up a seven-member executive council which is newly elected each year.

'Syria sincere about peace'
In a rare interview with Ynet from his home in a Washington suburb this weekend, Syrian representative in the talks Ibrahim Soliman said that talks were held with the knowledge and support of the administrations in both Jerusalem and Damascus.

"Syria wanted to make peace with Israel, Syria wanted to build relations with the United States; President Assad said time and again that he wanted to have good relations with the United States. He extended his hand in friendship and peace to Israel and the US, and they turned him down,” Suleiman said.

Soliman was scheduled to address the Israeli public for the first time next week, in a speech at the Herzliya conference, as the special guest of Dr. Uzi Arad, chief diplomatic consultant to the prime minister during Benjamin Netanyahu’s term. However, when his efforts were publicized, Soliman, who believes strongly that media exposure sabotages diplomatic negotiations, decided to cancel his visit.

First Published: 01.22.07, 20:08

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Kick NYC (The Universal Language) Trailer

For all you Soccer fans in New York, this is the first trailer of our planned documentary of soccer in New York. The movie shows how Football, as it's called in the world outside the USA brings together people from all walks of life, different cultural backgrounds, ethnicity, beliefs and social environments, all united by a single ball and two - mostly improvised goals. If you live in or around New York and have a special soccer story to tell or want to show off your skills on camera, please contact us. We will be shooting all year long in 2007.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A German Goes His Way in America

This is definite proof that Germans can be very funny. It is originally from German TV NDR and maybe the funniest polit spoof i've ever seen on the internet! Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Human Rights Council: Switzerlands Meisterstueck

The resolution is accepted: Picture from behind the Swiss delegation in the General Assembly hall.

They only joined the United Nations a bit more than three years ago, but today was proof that Switzerland can make itself and its ideas heard at the UN: A brainchild of Swiss human rights expert Walter Kaelin and high prioriety for Switzerlands agenda at the UN, the General Assembly today moved to creat a new human rights council which replaces the human rights commission in Geneva. Higher standards, less members, more rotation, better protection of the rights and a clear committment to upheld the human rights for every member in the council is what the new organisation will bring. The USA, Israel and the Marshall Island voted against it, the rest of the world pretty much can agree. Whether US ambassador John Bolton will be right and we will see human rights violators on the council, remians to be seen. For now, the UN can start to clean up and renew its human rights machinery. High time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Why the Swiss Have a Good Shot at the World Cup

For football, I'd do anything, and I mean soccer, of course. Even this:
Zigarrenbaron und Fussballfreaks on Blick Online. For more info about the movie project "The Kick - NYC", write to me, any input, sponsoring ideas and alliances are welcome. It's little known, but a fact, that for some reason many Swiss were involved in the beginning of building up national and then international leagues and tournaments. FC St. Gall, for example is the oldest Soccer Club on the continental Europe. Or ask Peter Brunschweiler about South Africa. Also in our little team in NYC, the Swiss are overrepresented with about a fourth of all members. So if it runs deep through the Swiss soul, even abroad, to pass that ball, why shouldn't they have a fair change to go somewhere during the World Cup this summer in Germany?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"More Holes than a Swiss Cheese"

Just keeping an eye out for the swiss reputation in the USA. Here's somebody at Human Events
slashing Marty's report badly. The Americans just hate it when the Europeans tell them what to do.

"In addition, the United Nations, with its hugely discredited human rights apparatus in tow, could not resist the opportunity to take a swipe at the United States. Louise Arbour, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, launched a fierce attack on America's "so-called war on terrorism," condemning U.S. interrogation techniques and the rendition of terrorist suspects. While millions languish under the boot of brutal dictatorships from Rangoon to Pyongyang to Tehran, the UN’s chief concern on its "Human Rights Day" last December was U.S. tactics in the battle against the most barbaric terrorist movement in modern history.

The Council of Europe Report

The European Parliament's investigation follows a major inquiry by the Council of Europe, which published its initial findings in late January. In presenting his report, Dick Marty, the Council’s Rapporteur, condemned the "gangster-style methods" of the Bush Administration, stating that "individuals have been abducted, deprived of their liberty and all rights, and transported to different destinations in Europe, to be handed over to countries in which they have suffered degrading treatment and torture."

On closer examination however, Marty's case is paper-thin and lacks any concrete evidence. If this case were presented in a court of law, it would be dismissed out of hand. In the words of Denis MacShane, the UK's former Minister for Europe, the report has "more holes than a Swiss cheese."

Marty's report contains no primary source documentation and relies entirely upon media accounts. It is filled with conjecture, innuendo, and a barely disguised sneering contempt for the U.S. approach to the war on terrorism. For example, Marty concludes that "the current U.S. Administration seems to start from the principle that the principles of the rule of law and human rights are incompatible with efficient action against terrorism," a clear misrepresentation of the U.S. position.

Significantly, the Council of Europe's report admits, "At this stage of the investigations, there is no formal, irrefutable evidence of the existence of secret CIA detention centers in Romania, Poland or any other country." It cites the findings of an investigation appointed by the Romanian Parliament and conducted by OADO, a human rights NGO, that "do not seem to provide any evidence of such centers." Nevertheless, the report freely cites rumors and circumstantial and highly ambiguous facts as justification for condemning U.S. efforts to protect itself and its allies against terrorist attacks. ... "

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Swiss investigator says US is 'outsourcing torture'

By Boston Globe's Farah Stockman | January 25, 2006

WASHINGTON -- A Swiss investigator for the Council of Europe said he is collecting mounting evidence that the United States has flown more than 100 terrorism suspects through Europe in recent years to countries where they could be tortured.

Dick Marty, who is charged with investigating reports of CIA prisoner transfers and detentions in Europe, called it ''highly unlikely" that European intelligence services were not aware of the practice, which he referred to as ''outsourcing torture."
Marty released an interim assessment in Strasbourg, France, yesterday that said he needed more time to determine whether secret CIA prisons had ever existed in Europe, as the Washington Post reported in November. But he said there was reason to continue the probe. Marty said he needed time to analyze flight logs of private planes used by the CIA in Europe and satellite imagery of airbases in Romania and other locations that were allegedly used as secret prisons, which he just received on Monday.

He also cited the need to find out more about allegations published this month by Switzerland's SonntagsBlick newspaper, that detention centers had existed in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Ukraine, as well as Romania and Poland.
The newspaper said Swiss intelligence services had intercepted a fax from the Egyptian Ministry of European Affairs to the Egyptian Embassy in London in November listing those countries as past locations of secret detention centers. The Swiss government has since set up an investigation into how the information made it into the press.
Yesterday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed Marty's interim assessment as ''the same old reports wrapped up in some new rhetoric."

But others said the European probe underscores how the United States risks alienating crucial allies in the war on terror by using tactics that human rights groups have condemned for decades. ''It's embarrassing that the Council of Europe is investigating practices of the United States, of the CIA," said Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, who has asked the House International Relations Committee to set up a probe into the alleged secret prisoner transfers. ''The United States should be leading the effort to investigate violations of human rights, not being dragged by Europe to acknowledge the outsourcing of torture, which has been the US policy."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Swiss may have known about secret CIA prisons

...or is it just a swiss media hype - a strom in a teacup?

The Swiss intelligence community has allegedly been aware of secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe for nearly two months, according to leaked documents.

The intelligence services are refusing to comment on the affair, revealed at the weekend by the SonntagsBlick newspaper.
According to the SonntagsBlick, Swiss military intelligence intercepted a fax received by the Egyptian embassy in London supposedly confirming the existence of the detention centres.

The message was picked up by the secret service's Onyx satellite listening system on November 10, just three days after the Council of Europe launched its investigation into allegations that the CIA was running secret interrogation centres in Europe.

The non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch had claimed shortly beforehand that American intelligence services were interrogating suspected members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network at these centres.

The NGO also claimed that American planes had carried prisoners from Kabul to Polish and Romanian military facilities on at least two occasions.

The Egyptian fax stated that 23 Iraqi and Afghan citizens had been transferred to a Romanian military base near the port of Constanza for interrogation purposes. It added that similar detention centres had been set up in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

The SonntagsBlick's story is based on a document leaked from military intelligence. The complete contents of the report are classified as "secret".

Jean-Blaise Defago, a spokesman for the defence ministry, declined to comment on the contents of the document, saying only that the authorities did not know how the newspaper had got hold of it.

He told swissinfo that Defence Minister Samuel Schmid had ordered an inquiry and confirmed that legal steps were being considered. The parliament's control committee, which oversees military intelligence, has been informed of the leak.

Dick Marty, who is leading the Council of Europe's investigation into the prison allegations, is cautious about the SonntagsBlick's revelations.

"I cannot say whether this is an authentic document, and furthermore the fax relays information confirming things we already knew," he told swissinfo."But it seems inappropriate to me to talk of absolute proof. It is the kind of scoop I was expecting to see and I'm sure there will be plenty more."

A more pressing concern in his view is how the document came to light."How is it that the Swiss intelligence services are intercepting messages between Cairo and the Egyptian embassy in London?" he asked. "Or is it another foreign [security] service that passed on the information to Switzerland and then to the SonntagsBlick?"

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Friday, December 09, 2005

Switzerland remains among least corrupt nations

On International Anti-Corruption Day, Transparency International (TI) tells Swissinfo that corruption remains a problem in Switzerland. Here's what the survey finds:

The Global Corruption Barometer, based on a 69-nation survey, shows that the Swiss public have the least confidence in politics, business and the media.

Just one per cent of the Swiss respondents admitted they had paid a bribe over the last 12 months. However, Schwübel complains that there have been very few criminal convictions for corruption since the law was tightened in 2000.

Political parties were perceived as by far the most corrupt institutions in society in 45 of the 69 countries surveyed, including Switzerland.

The private sector and the media are next in line for lack of Swiss public trust.

However, sectors such as the police, customs, the legal system and tax authorities are considered trustworthy in Switzerland, unlike in many other countries.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Swiss Roots" Makes First Media Splash

After more than a year of deliberations, the brain child of the Swiss consulate in New York, a project called "Swiss Roots" makes the headlines in the USA, at least in Wisconsin. "Swiss Roots" aims to build bridges between the Swiss and the Americans and lets more than a million Americans look up their Swiss roots. The following article and picture were published by The Monroe Times. The picture shows Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, talking with Lukas Fitze and Ambassador Raymond Loretan, Consul General of Switzerland.

Swiss roots firmly anchored in American soil
By Ellen Williams-Masson

NEW GLARUS -- Chevrolet may be as American as apple pie, but the automotive legend, like more than 1 million U. S. citizens, has Swiss origins that emphasize common interests, a shared history and more importantly, a shared future between the United States and Switzerland.

"Especially after the war in Iraq, there has been a decrease of understanding between Americans and Europeans, including in Switzerland," Ambassador Raymond Loretan, Consul General of Switzerland, explained. "We could see in Europe a rise in anti-Americanism. The project 'Swiss Roots' is a way to address this problem at the level of people-to-people."

Loretan spoke to a group of Swiss and the Swiss-minded at the New Glarus Hotel Monday, not in his official role as Ambassador but as the co-chairman of Swiss Roots, an initiative program to connect Swiss and American people.

"What we want to achieve with this project is (to allow) American and Swiss people to get in touch with each other to confirm or rediscover that the values that we are defending are the same -- the basic values like individual freedom, human rights and democracy," Loretan said. "These values today are challenged in the world and we think that only together we will be able to make them prevail."

Swiss Roots seeks to establish links between the Swiss, Swiss-Americans and those of Swiss affinity. In order to accomplish this goal, the organization is building a Web site where people may research their Swiss genealogy, contact Swiss families who share their name and learn about all things Swiss.

Promotional events are planned throughout 2006 in the five regions of the United States with the highest Swiss populations: California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New York. A Swiss Postal Bus roadshow and Pro Helvetia cultural program will connect the regional events and the bus will appear locally with a variety of Swiss-themed activities for the Wilhelm Tell festival in New Glarus and Cheese Days in Monroe in September of 2006.

Swiss Roots shares many goals with the Swiss Center of North America and may turn over management of the Swiss Roots Web site to the SCNA after 2006. Kaye Gmur of the New Glarus-based SCNA said her organization is delighted to have been selected to work with Swiss Roots.

"Out of all the places in the country with Swiss populations and traditional Swiss events, they picked New Glarus and Monroe," Gmur said. "In Green County, if you are Swiss, then you know it and celebrate it, but many people around the country aren't aware and we want people to make that connection back to Switzerland."

Numerous regional and international businesses are of Swiss origin or have Swiss ties, including Nestlé, General Casualty Insurance, UBS Financial Services, Joseph Huber Brewing Company, The Swiss Colony and Roth Käse. And Louis Chevrolet, the Swiss mechanical genius who designed the first car endowed with his name, will be forever linked with the American icons "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Swiss choose Siegel for 2006 Eurovision

This is an insult for every Swiss songwriter. Couldn't they find anybody who is less pathetic than Siegel? does that man have an everlasting contract for evercheesy songs for an ever same contest? Have these dear people at Swiss TV no mercy for us viewers? Progress is the word, folks. The following can be found at doteurovision:

Eurovision song contest veterans Ralph Siegel and Bernd Meinunger will compose the Swiss entry to the 2006 contest.

Composers from seven countries (Spain, the UK, France, Malta, Germany, Canada and Switzerland) submitted songs to broadcasters SF DRS, TSR and TSI. A national jury then had the final say on which song would represent Switzerland in Athens.

Swiss TV issued an open call to find performers for next year. The broadcasters are looking for “a performer with a strong voice, extensive live performance experience and a great stage presence.” A shortlist of performers is under consideration, as soon as the final choice has been made, Switzerland's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2006 will be presented to the public.

Toni Wachter, Head of the Swiss delegation, remarked: “It goes without saying that we will also be considering strong Swiss voices among the possible performers.”

Ralph Siegel has written 17 Eurovision final songs and has won once in 1982 when Nicole sang ‘Ein Bisschen Frieden”. His songs have ended in second place three times.

Lyricist Meinunger is also no stranger to the contest, having seen 15 songs make the final of the contest. In 2005, he co-wrote ‘Cool Vibes’ for Estonian group Vanilla Ninja. When the song ended in eighth place, it secured a place in the 2006 final for Switzerland.

Source: SF-DRS

Thursday, September 29, 2005

UNHCR Disappointed with Swiss Restrictions on Asylum

While the Swiss accepted plans to open the labor market, they are about to pass a very strict law on asylum, despite rapidly falling numbers of applicants. The UN Human Rights Agency even says the law might violate the Human Rights charter. Here's the UN press release:

Despite a falling number of asylum applications, restrictive legislation being adopted by Switzerland could make access by genuine refugees to the country exceedingly difficult, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement.

“This provision is amongst the strictest in Europe, UNHCR Spokesperson Ron Redmond told a briefing in Geneva today. “We are concerned that …this law could result in some deserving cases being denied access to international protection,” he added, noting the new need for valid travel or identity documents.

“We should not forget that people trying to enter a country without documentation may have valid reasons to do so,” he said. “It is often not possible for people fleeing for their lives to obtain such documents,” he said, adding that the UNHCR has repeatedly voiced its concerns relating to this type of asylum restriction.

The legislation is not consistent with the rights of refugees to enter without travel documents outlined in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Switzerland was an early signatory. While acknowledging that governments do have the right to control migration flows, Mr. Redmond said the UNHCR will work with the Swiss Government to develop a “fair and effective asylum system.”

Equally disappointing Mr. Redmond said, the Swiss legislation also voted down protection for individuals who though not applying for refugee status, might be fleeing serious harm from an ongoing conflict, making the country out of lockstep with European standards.

Last year there were 14,000 asylum applications to the country, which was 32 per cent lower than in 2003. So far, in 2005 there have only been 4,700 applications, 44 per cent lower than the same period last year, the agency said.

Swiss Are Easing Foreign Workers' Way

Federal Councillor Joseph Deiss congratulated the Swiss for their courage: Surprisingly, they accepted government plans to open the labor market (Personenfreizuegigkeit). Here's what the New York Times wrote:

Swiss voters supported a referendum in favor of easing restrictions on Eastern European workers, helping to temper the country's image as an alpine fortress at the center of Europe. The referendum, on government plans to open the labor market in stages to the 10 mainly Eastern European nations that joined the European Union in May 2004, passed with 56 percent of the vote. The approval in Switzerland, which is not a European Union member, was the first in Western Europe, and it came amid growing discontent among nations like Germany and France about immigration from Eastern Europe.