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Criminal foreigners

Justice minister slams ‘inhumane’ deportation vote

The Swiss cabinet is adamant that Switzerland will not pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights in the event that voters approve a controversial initiative to expel foreigners, says Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga. 

“Historically there has only ever been one withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights: that was Greece during the military dictatorship [in 1970],” she told Le Temps newspaper on Saturday. 

“Is this really the example that Switzerland, the country of international humanitarian law, should follow?” 

She said the aim of supporters of the initiative, which was put forward by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and which will be decided at the polls on February 28, was to fuel conflict between the will of the people and Switzerland’s international obligations. 

“The People’s Party wants to go further here with its new initiative placing Swiss law above international law,” she said. No voting date has been set for this initiative. 

“The Swiss constitution says it is necessary to respect international law, and this initiative, if accepted, would demand the opposite. It would be the first time in the history of Switzerland that an initiative would ban [Swiss judges] from respecting a treaty.” 

Sommaruga said Swiss voters would need to reflect on what that would mean for Switzerland’s credibility and image. 


As for the so-called enforcement initiative on February 28, Sommaruga described this as “inhumane” since it would mean thousands of people – many born in Switzerland and “perfectly integrated” – being deported every year for minor offences. 

“It treats in exactly the same manner a murderer and someone who breaks a gate to steal a bicycle,” she said. 

In November 2010, 52.9% of voters accepted an initiative organised by the People’s Party calling for the automatic expulsion of non-Swiss offenders convicted of certain serious crimes. In addition, repeat offenders of less serious crimes would be deported if their most recent offence had been committed within ten years.  

Parliament struggled to implement this so-called deportation initiative, rewording some passages and adding a clause that the courts would be able to intervene if they thought deportation would result in serious hardship for the person involved.  

The People’s Party criticised this “watered down” version and collected enough signatures to force another initiative calling for the implementation to the letter of their original initiative from 2010.  

“The result is that two million foreigners in Switzerland would be treated as second-class individuals because they would have to be deported even for trifling matters,” Sommaruga said. 

According to an opinion poll published on January 22, the result of the enforcement initiative is too close to call: 51% of respondents said they were in favour of the initiative and 7% were undecided.

swissinfo.ch and agencies



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