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Places of detention Switzerland gets good marks from UN torture prevention body

Swiss prison door

The UN delegation visited 19 places of detention in Switzerland in four cantons – Vaud, Bern, Zurich and Geneva - during their 11-day mission


United Nations experts from a torture prevention body have concluded their first fact-finding mission to Switzerland to evaluate the treatment of detainees and asylum seekers. In general, there are ‘no major shortcomings’, the delegation head told 

The seven-member UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) was in Switzerland from January 28 to February 7 to evaluate the prevention of abuses in detention and Switzerland’s obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (OPCAT),external link which it ratified in 2009. 

“No state can claim to be perfect,” Catherine Paulet, the SPT head of delegation, told on Thursday. But overall Switzerland got a positive assessment. “There are no major shortcomings concerning Switzerland's obligations to OPCAT,” she declared. 

“The areas to be improved and problems encountered will be reserved for the state party. We have no doubt that the state will respond to our observations and recommendations and questions when they get our final report.” 

The SPT delegation will now present its observations and recommendations in a confidential report, which is due to be finalized in the next 6-9 months. Switzerland then has a further 6-9 months to validate the final report and can decide whether to publish it or not.

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“Excellent cooperation”

During the 11-day visit, the delegation met representatives of the federal and cantonal authorities, the Attorney General’s office, the judiciary and civil society. 

Together with members of the Swiss National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (CNPT),external link the SPT visited 19 places of detention in four cantons – Vaud, Bern, Zurich and Geneva. These included prisons, police stations, detention centers for migrants, as well as psychiatric institutions. 

“We had excellent cooperation with federal and cantonal authorities and directors and officials in all places visited,” said Paulet, who praised the “openness” and “quality” of the cooperation. 

She said she was also struck by Switzerland’s federal structure and the considerable autonomy of cantons for the management and governance of detention-related issues, which she described as “complex, rich and original”. 


Paulet is confident Switzerland will respond positively to recommendations and meet its obligations under the anti-torture convention. 

“I think Switzerland has always implemented UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT)external link recommendations when there were individual complaints,” she noted. 

But she added that in general: “Being aware of obligations doesn't always mean implementing them. Thanks to the joint influence of civil society, the evolution of ideas and the insistence of national and international mechanisms, we finish by getting positive results. But it's not simple and detention is a complex area; it's a process which is always in movement."

The Convention Against Torture (CAT) entered into force in 1987. It is accompanied by the OPCAT, which has been ratified by 88 countries including Switzerland (2009). As a UN mechanism, the SPT carries out roughly ten monitoring visits a year to evaluate the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty as well as the guarantees in place protecting them against torture and ill-treatment.

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