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Amnesty report takes aim at Swiss police

Police blocked access to Davos during the World Economic Forum summit

(Keystone)

The authorities have come in for criticism over their handling of anti-globalisation protests during last year's World Economic Forum summit.

The criticism is contained in Amnesty International's annual report for 2001, which was released on Tuesday, and which repeats earlier criticisms of the Swiss police for alleged ill treatment of foreigners and the use of excessive force during deportations.

In addition, this year's report alleges infringements of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), held in Davos in January 2001.

Opponents of the forum and globalisation were prevented from converging on the alpine resort of Davos in the hope of preventing clashes, which have marked earlier meetings of the WEF. The authorities said the restrictions on movement were essential to guarantee the security of participants.

Rights infringed

However, Amnesty says the authorities went further than was necessary and in the process infringed the right of people to demonstrate peacefully.

Amnesty researcher for western Europe, Nerys Lee, told swissinfo that people trying to attend seminars by non-governmental organisations were in some cases prevented from doing so. "There were reports of several people handing over brochures on the spot about the seminars... being stopped and detained," she said.

Lee said Amnesty recognised that there were great difficulties in policing summits, and that the Swiss authorities had a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the official participants at the WEF summit.

However, "it was also the duty of the authorities to ensure that people who wanted to engage in peaceful protests and peaceful assembly could actually do so".

She said that although the Federal Court had ruled that the ban on demonstrations had not violated the constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and expression, it had found that "the authorities should have examined other options, such as holding demonstrations and the forum in other locations".

Davos says criticism unfair

Stefan Staub, legal councilor for the resort of Davos, responded to the criticism by citing the court's assessment of the protests.

"It approved, in its decision concerning the World Economic Forum demonstrations of 2000 and 2001, that the city council of Davos did not injure the Swiss constitution concerning the rights for peaceful demonstrations," Staub told swissinfo.

In addition, Staub said Swiss authorities had created a liaison group to assist organisations planning to launch future protests.

"It is the intention of the political authorities to make it possible that a demonstration will be able to take place at Davos," he said.

Use of force

The Amnesty report also addresses concerns over police use of force, particularly when detaining suspects or when carrying out deportations. It highlights the case of a Turkish asylum seeker who died in 2001 days after being beaten by police who were trying to restrain him.

Similar criticisms have been levelled against Switzerland in earlier Amnesty International reports, but Lee said this year's report recognises that efforts are being made to improve police methods.

"There has been some major progress made by the Swiss authorities, who have drawn up guidelines, which we hope will be implemented very shortly and given a legislative basis, improving the methods of restraint which may be used," Lee told swissinfo.

swissinfo

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