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UN and Amnesty criticise ban on rallies in Swiss cities

tram and cobbled street in basel
No demos for now: the northeastern Swiss city of Basel. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

The UN has said general bans on demonstrations – such as those in some Swiss cities – in connection with the situation in the Middle East are “disproportionate”.

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, Zurich and Basel this week announced bans on demonstrations due to the tense security situation related to the Israeli-Palestinian war. Basel banned all public demonstrations in general.

In French-speaking Switzerland, on the other hand, pro-Palestinian demonstrations are an almost daily occurrence. Around 4,500 people gathered in Lausanne on Thursday evening, while events in support of Israel also took place.

+ Our coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war

“States have an obligation to foster safe conditions for participation and debate,” a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters in Geneva on Friday. “They must not unfairly restrict” such demonstrations, criticism in the context of the conflict, or solidarity with one of the parties.

Of course restrictions are possible, the UN added. But according to international humanitarian law, “they must be proportionate to threats to national security, public safety or public order”. They also “must never be discriminatory”.

Amnesty criticises “serious” violations

“While public order and security can be grounds for a ban, to be legitimate they can only be invoked if a concrete threat is identified after a case-by-case examination of each planned demonstration,” says Alicia Giraudel, a legal expert at Amnesty International Switzerland. “And only if no other, less restrictive measure can contain the threat.”

“Under no circumstances can reasons of public order and security justify a general and abstract ban such as that imposed by the German-speaking [Swiss] cities”, said Amnesty, which criticised “serious and disproportionate infringements of the right to protest”.

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