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Human rights Court dismisses discrimination case against Swiss paraplegic

Woman in wheelchair behind steps outside a building

Switzerland's policy on the rights of disabled people could face international criticism despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

(Keystone/Gaetan Bally)

The European Court of Human Rights has thrown out a complaint by a Swiss paraplegic about his inability to gain access to a cinema in Geneva.

The Strasbourg-based panel of judges declared the application of the wheelchair-bound man inadmissibleexternal link, saying the “right to respect for private and family life” did not apply in this case.

“The court thus saw no cause to go against the findings of the Federal Court, which had held that the convention [on the protection against discrimination] did not oblige Switzerland to adopt, in its domestic legislation, a concept of discrimination of the kind sought [by the complainant]”, according to a court statement published on Thursday.

The incident dates back to 2008 when the man was refused access to a local Geneva cinema. Its management referred to internal safety instructions as the building was not adapted to wheelchair users.

The applicant claimed he had been the victim of discrimination and filed a complaint at a local court in 2009, which dismissed the case, as did all higher courts in Switzerland over the next two years.


Inclusion Handicapexternal link, the organisation representing disabled people in Switzerland, expressed disappointment about the European court ruling, saying it left disabled people in Switzerland “to a large extent unprotected against discriminatory services by private operators”.

However, Inclusion Handicap says Swiss laws will continue to come under pressure as they are “not compatible with the United Nations conventionexternal link on the rights of persons with disabilities”.

A UN body is due to review Switzerland’s policy next year.

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