Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Swiss take the rap for human rights wrongs

Swissinfo reports this rise in xenophobia in Switzerland:

The Council of Europe has praised Switzerland's commitment to human rights but had some strong criticism for its asylum policy.

Alvaro Gil-Robles, the council's Commissioner for Human Rights, said he was particularly worried by "attitudes of rejection towards foreign nationals".

In a report published on Wednesday, Gil-Robles said he was satisfied that Switzerland is a country that ensures "a very high degree of respect for human rights within its borders, while actively and persuasively promoting respect for human rights throughout the world".

But certain aspects of the country's policy towards asylum seekers left much to be desired and fell short of the obligation to respect human rights, he said.

Gil-Robles singled out the fact that asylum seekers were only given 48 hours to present their identity papers to the authorities, saying that this undermined human rights.

"Such a short time-limit is unreasonable; one cannot, as Swiss law does, allow the mere lack of identity documents or failure to present them to have adverse consequences for the asylum-seeker," he said.

He added that if an asylum seeker was unable to present their papers within the designated time, then his or her application should not be adversely affected, as this was contrary to international law.

Gil-Robles also criticised the practice of asking asylum seekers wishing to appeal against an immediate rejection to pay SFr600 ($482). If they were unable to pay this sum, the appeal was declared inadmissible, without consideration of the merits.

The commissioner complained about proposals to stop paying welfare benefits to those whose applications had been rejected, saying these would "plunge [people] into poverty and demean them in their own eyes and other people's eyes".

As in other reports into Switzerland's human rights' record, the police were criticised for their inappropriate behaviour targeted "mainly at dark-skinned people". Gil-Robles said that while it was understandable that police officers perhaps experienced a "culture shock" when dealing with people of other races, more had to be done to expose them to other cultures.

The rise of racism and xenophobia in the country was also highlighted as a problem.

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