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Anti-racism decisions go online

Swiss law punishes racist acts such as the defacing of this synagogue in Geneva last April

(Keystone)

Court rulings on Switzerland's anti-racism legislation can now be consulted online, thanks to a database set up by the Federal Commission against Racism (FCR).

The database is aimed not only at legal experts - it can also be used by administrative bodies, non-governmental organisations or people fighting racism.

The new online tool contains decisions taken since the introduction of anti-racism legislation in 1995 and covers the period until 2002.

Unveiled on Tuesday, it allows users to consult rulings as well as conduct searches based on criteria such the type of offence, perpetrator or victim.

"It is the FCR's biggest project to date," commission secretary Doris Angst told swissinfo.

"It took us three-and-a-half years, and we didn't want to wait any longer before making it accessible."

The period after 2002 will be added later, according to Angst.

Set up with the backing of the judicial authorities, the database contains 212 cases of when Switzerland's anti-racism law was breached. These cases led to 277 rulings.

In nearly half the cases, the courts decided not to go ahead with formal proceedings. However, in 110 other cases, 80 per cent of the perpetrators were sentenced.

Those found guilty included journalists, youngsters and rightwing extremists. The victims included Jews, non-Caucasians and foreigners.

Written racial vilification is the most common breach of anti-racism norms, but verbal insults are not uncommon, says the FCR.

Open to all

According to Angst, the database is not only aimed at legal experts.

"It's open to anybody," she added. "Lawyers, NGOs, the authorities, victims and perpetrators can see here how the courts are ruling."

The database is designed to make searches as simple as possible, making it accessible to a wider public.

The biggest problem was apparently getting permission to publish the rulings online.

"We had a data-protection problem," said Angst. "We had to talk to all the police services and courts involved to get their agreement to put this information online."

Getting permission, however, wasn't too difficult, she admitted.

"We didn't have to work hard to convince anyone," she told swissinfo. "We consider it a positive contribution that the FCR wanted to make available to everyone."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Between 1995 and 2002, 212 cases of alleged racism were reported to the authorities.
These led to 277 decisions or rulings by various legal instances.
110 cases were handled by the courts, with an 80 per cent conviction rate.

end of infobox

In brief

The Federal Commission against Racism was set up when Switzerland's anti-racism legislation went into effect in 1995.

The FCR, which only has consulting role, also voices its opinion on issues it considers important.

Recently, it came out against the tightening of Swiss asylum policy.

It also tries to make people more aware of racism, running media campaigns and publishing brochures.

end of infobox


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