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NGOs issue appeal against torture

Human rights groups have repeatedly protested against controversial deportation methods Keystone Archive

Non-governmental organisations have called on Switzerland to do more to protect asylum seekers from torture.

This content was published on June 26, 2005 - 12:04

The appeal was made on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

The coalition of NGO’s (see key facts) said on Sunday that Switzerland’s asylum policy was not only "one of the most restrictive in Europe" but also "bordered on compatibility with international and European human rights norms".

It has sent an open letter to the Swiss parliament, criticising asylum policy. It comes two days after a parliamentary commission recommended that the House of Representatives follow the government’s plan to introduce harsher measures to discourage asylum seekers.

The coalition accused Switzerland of drastically restricting access to the asylum process and the right of appeal, as well as limiting welfare claims and for "criminalising" many asylum seekers.

It based its charges on the findings of the United Nations and the Council of Europe, which were published in recent weeks.

Undermining human rights

The latter’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, singled out the fact that asylum seekers were only given 48 hours to present their identity papers to the authorities, saying this undermined human rights.

Gil-Robles said it was contrary to international law to reject an asylum seeker’s application if they could not present the required document within this time frame.

He also criticised the practice of asking asylum seekers to pay SFr600 ($482) in order to make an appeal.

In May, the UN Committee against Torture urged Switzerland to include an explicit definition of torture in the country’s penal code.

The committee expressed its unease over the proposed use of electroshock weapons during forced deportations, and to ensure that it adheres to the UN convention forbidding the deportation of people to countries where they are threatened with torture.

"More than 60 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive at our centre are traumatised either by war or famine, and nearly 20 per cent have been tortured," Laurent Subilia, a doctor working at a rehabilitation centre for torture victims in Geneva, told swissinfo.

Subilia said conditions at some Swiss centres for asylum seekers had become appalling.

"They are unworthy of a signatory of the conventions on torture and human rights," he added.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The coalition consists of the Swiss branches of the Association for the Prevention of Torture, Amnesty International, the Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, the World Organisation Against Torture and Swiss Red Cross clinic for victims of torture and war.

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In brief

Switzerland is among 139 states party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

It ratified the convention in 1986.

The European Convention on Human Rights sets forth a number of fundamental rights and freedoms including the prohibition of torture, slavery and forced labour, the right to a fair trial and no punishment without law.

Switzerland ratified the human rights treaty in 1974.

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