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European torture watchdog inspects Swiss jails

Behind bars: what are conditions like for prisoners in Switzerland? Keystone

A team of European human rights experts is to carry out a two-week inspection of conditions inside Swiss prisons and other detention centres, starting on Monday.

This content was published on September 24, 2007 - 07:55

Members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) plan to visit a number of undisclosed secure units to see whether detainees are being ill-treated.

Folco Galli, spokesman for the Federal Justice Office, told swissinfo that the five-strong inspection team had submitted a preliminary list of institutions it wants to visit. This includes prisons, juvenile detention centres and police stations in a number of cantons.

"The committee can also decide to visit other facilities in other cantons once they are here," he said.

Patrick Müller of the CPT's Strasbourg-based secretariat confirmed that committee members had the power and the mandate to go wherever they wanted at any time and that other locations would be visited.

"They will certainly visit police stations and prisons. Maybe the delegation will visit psychiatric hospitals or detention centres for foreigners," he said.

"We will be looking at the conditions in which people deprived of their liberty are held: how their health is, are their cells big enough, how is the prison regime, and do they have contact with their lawyers – anything which we think is important to prevent ill-treatment."

Secure unit

It is the fifth time that the CPT has visited Switzerland since 1991. The last visit took place four years ago when committee members conducted an "ad hoc" inspection of the secure unit at Zurich airport used for holding foreign nationals awaiting deportation.

They also examined the transit zone at Zurich airport where those refused entry to Switzerland are detained.

Although the CPT found no evidence of torture or serious abuse at both sites, it issued several recommendations designed to improve conditions.

The main purpose of the inspection was to assess the implementation of measures adopted by the Swiss authorities after a previous CPT visit in 2001. At the time it had condemned procedures for forcibly repatriating foreigners as "inhuman and degrading".

Overcrowding

Three years ago the Council of Europe's former commissioner for human rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, complained about overcrowding in prisons in Geneva and Bellinzona.

Earlier this year a group of experts strongly criticised conditions at Geneva's Champ-Dollon, which is notorious for being the country's most overcrowded prison.

Plans for a national body to monitor detention centres are being delayed by Switzerland's failure to ratify the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The new global instrument foresees unannounced visits by international and national inspection teams to all detention facilities including prisons, police stations, psychiatric hospitals and asylum centres.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

Key facts

There are around 120 detention centres in Switzerland with places for 6,741 inmates.
In September last year there were 5,888 people in custody.
Foreigners accounted for 69% of the total.
Women made up 5.7%.

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European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)

Under the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CPT delegations have unlimited access to places of detention.

They also have the right to unrestricted access inside secure units and can interview detainees in private.

The "periodic" visit to Switzerland is one of 11 that the CPT is undertaking in 2007. Other countries include Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia and Moldova.

After each visit, the CPT sends a confidential report containing its conclusions and recommendations to the country concerned.

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