Switzerland: Court decision on ethnic profiling case sends clear message on racial discrimination

Following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Wa Baile v Switzerland, Amnesty International Switzerland’s Legal Advisor Alicia Giraudel, said:

“The court’s judgement in the Wa Baile case is an opportunity for the Court to catalyse legal protection from ethnic profiling and racial discrimination by police forces and provide guidance to governments across Europe. International law and standards are very clear. Identity checks and stops and searches can only be carried out where police have a reasonable suspicion of criminality, and discrimination is prohibited. Ethnic profiling violates both international and European human rights treaties.

“It is likely that Wa Baile’s case marks just the tip of a much larger iceberg. The European authorities have repeatedly failed to recognize or combat the longstanding and systemic issue of ethnic profiling.

“Switzerland must take immediate steps to revise its laws, guidelines and practices in line with international standards to prevent the ongoing use of ethnic profiling. The case must also serve as a wake-up call for all European states, which must ensure that they fulfil their obligations to actively prevent police forces from resorting to such discriminatory and unequal treatment.”

The judgment comes a week after the Metropolitan Police in the UK scrapped its gangs violence matrix after more than a decade amid concerns over ethnic profiling, racial bias and disproportionality.

See Amnesty International’s analysis of the judgment here

In 2015, Mohamed Wa Baile, a Black Swiss citizen, was subject to an identity check by Swiss police at a train station in Zurich on his way to work. He was repeatedly asked to identify himself, but since he was not given a reason why, he refused. He was subjected to a search and fined 100 Swiss francs for failing to identify himself and convicted.

Amnesty submitted a third-party intervention in the case examining the right to non-discrimination in law enforcement activities and highlighted the serious failings of Switzerland in relation to its obligation to prevent and effectively investigate ethnic profiling.