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Switzerland 2023

The law on rape was amended to punish sex perpetrated against a person’s consent. Parliament failed to fully decriminalize abortion. A new initiative put the rights of people with disabilities on the agenda. Peaceful protesters in several cantons faced disproportionate restrictions by police and cantonal authorities. Work continued on a definition of torture in the Criminal Code. Refugees and migrants continued to lack support and protection. A large majority voted to strengthen measures against climate change. Automatic facial recognition was banned in several cities.


In May, after 20 years of preparation, the Swiss Human Rights Institution was formally established. However, there were concerns about inadequate funding and the lack of a mandate to receive complaints.

Switzerland underwent several international human rights reviews. In the UPR, Switzerland remained unwilling to invest properly in a standing inter-agency mechanism to coordinate the implementation of international human rights obligations, or to commit to ensuring that popular initiatives were fully compatible with international human rights law before being submitted to a vote.

Gender-based violence

Parliament adopted an amendment to the Criminal Code changing the definition of rape, recognizing that “sex against the will of another person” is rape. The adoption of the law, expected to enter into force in 2024, marked the end of the outdated definition of rape that required the use of physical force, threat or coercion, and considered only women as victims.

Parliament also called for the creation of crisis centres for survivors of gender-based violence in all cantons, and commissioned a study to evaluate the obstacles survivors face when seeking justice.

Sexual and reproductive rights

The lower house of parliament rejected by a small majority a parliamentary initiative aimed at fully decriminalizing abortion.

Rights of people with disabilities

Following concerns expressed in 2022 by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a popular “inclusion initiative” was launched to seek legal and effective equality for people with disabilities.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

A system requiring authorization for public assembly remained in force. Unauthorized peaceful protests were dispersed by force, including in the cities of Basel and Geneva.

In the cantons of Zurich and Basel-Stadt, the youth wing of a right-wing party launched a popular initiative seeking to further entrench the requirement for demonstrations to be authorized, and to introduce a mandatory financial liability for organizers. Despite opposition in the cantonal parliament, the initiative in Zurich was due to be put to a vote on 3 March 2024.

Since the beginning of the current armed conflict in Gaza, several German-speaking cities in Switzerland imposed temporary bans on demonstrations.

Torture and other ill-treatment

The UN Committee against Torture reviewed Switzerland, asking for swift progress on the definition of torture in the Criminal Code, on which parliamentary work was ongoing. This included strengthening the national preventive mechanism and setting up an independent mechanism in every canton to investigate and prosecute allegations of police violence and violence against people in detention.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

The European Court of Human Rights criticized Switzerland for rejecting family reunification applications by refugees on the grounds that they were dependent on social assistance. Switzerland continued transferring people to Croatia – including those with health problems or suffering from trauma – despite evidence of summary returns and serious flaws in the Croatian asylum system. Switzerland’s resettlement programme remained suspended, depriving refugees of a regular and safe pathway to protection. A state-mandated study identified a need to improve medical care for asylum seekers in federal and cantonal accommodation. The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture expressed concern about the inadequate care of unaccompanied minors in federal asylum centres.

Right to a healthy environment

In a referendum in June, 59% of voters confirmed a new climate law aimed at accelerating the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy and reducing the negative climate impact of the financial sector. Although Amnesty International supported the law, the measures were insufficient to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels by 2030.

Right to privacy

After campaigning by Amnesty International and other NGOs, parliamentary initiatives in eight cities and cantons demanded the banning of automatic facial recognition in public spaces. In the cities of Zurich, St. Gallen and Lausanne, and the canton of Basel-Stadt, parliaments adopted motions for a ban on facial recognition, while similar motions were in progress in the cities of Lucerne and Geneva and in the cantons of Zurich and Basel-Landschaft. In a national survey, 78% of parliamentary candidates supported such a ban.