A new accelerated asylum procedure came into force. A study giving detailed figures on the extent of sexual violence against women was published, initiating a broad discussion on women's rights and sexual violence.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
A new asylum law came into force on 1 March. Asylum procedures were accelerated in the federal centres of the six asylum regions. The government set a goal to complete 60 percent of asylum applications within 140 days of arrival. Asylum-seekers are also to receive free counselling and legal representation in the new procedures.
However no reliable system had been put in place to proactively identify vulnerable asylum-seekers and their needs related to procedures and accommodation. Direct access to specialist medical care is difficult for asylum-seekers, and people seeking to assist asylum-seekers face restrictions in accessing federal centres.
The number of asylum applications had reached its lowest level since 2007, with 14 269 applications lodged in 2019. The Swiss asylum authorities continue to rely on a rigid application of the Dublin Agreement, regularly returning even vulnerable asylum-seekers and people who have relatives in Switzerland to their first country of entry.
The accommodation of rejected asylum-seekers who cannot be returned to their countries of origin amounted to inhuman treatment. Under the government’s “emergency assistance” regime, these people are housed in underground civil defence facilities in some cantons (Zurich and Ticino). In 2015, the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) considered this to be permissible for a maximum period of three months.
Human rights defenders
In at least five cantons, immediate criminal orders were issued against people who helped others to settle in Switzerland, and access protection and livelihood means in Switzerland. When they opposed the conviction, they faced trial. Among them were human rights defenders Anni Lanz, pastor Norbert Valley and Lisa Bosia Mirra.
Under federal Swiss law, “non-aggravated” cases of facilitating entry, stay and circulation (that is, not for payment) is punishable with a fine and in some cases criminal registration. National Councillor Lisa Mazzone introduced a parliamentary initiative to explicitly exempt from punishment this kind of action to aid people in the future. In spring 2020, the parliament will debate the use of this provision and the introduction of a humanitarian exemption.
The women's strike on 14 June was one of the largest mobilizations in Switzerland’s history. About half a million people took to the streets calling for an end to continuing discrimination against women.
Amnesty International commissioned research on the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual violence in Switzerland. The organization called for reform of Swiss criminal law, so that rape is defined on the basis of lack of consent in line with international human rights standards. Currently, the legal definition of rape in Switzerland continues to be based on violence, threats of violence or other means of coercion.
Counter-terror and security
After two new laws had already been introduced in 2017 and 2018, two new anti-terrorist laws were discussed in parliament in autumn 2019. They are expected to be passed in 2020.
The amendment of anti-terror legislation for the first time introduced a definition of “terrorism”. Vague and overly broad offences can result in encroachments on fundamental rights and arbitrary application.
In May, the Federal Council presented the Federal Act on “Police Measures to Combat Terrorism”, which Amnesty had criticized as too far-reaching. The law provides for a series of preventive coercive measures against so-called “persons likely to threaten public safety”. This provision lacks clarity and violates the principle of legality.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)
In December 2018, the Swiss parliament decided to expand the scope of the law on penalizing racism to include calls for hatred and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Opponents have called for a national referendum, which may take place in February 2020. Discrimination based on gender identity, however, remained outside the scope of the legislation.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
In December, the Federal Council has adopted a draft law on the creation of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). The draft complies with the Paris Principles relating to the National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, however, the budget attributed to the future NHRI is low (1 million CHF/year). The Parliament is expected to discuss the draft law and should adopt a final version before the end of 2020.