Row over foreign criminals goes into new round

The controversial initiative to deport criminal foreingers is back on the political agenda Keystone

Experts have presented proposals to implement a rightwing initiative approved in nationwide vote last November to automatically expel foreign criminals from Switzerland.

This content was published on June 28, 2011 - 14:00

The report, published on Tuesday, serves as blueprint for the government’s bill to parliament, but the rightwing Swiss People’s Party is adamant that only its proposal is true to the intentions of the initiative.

Of the four proposals drafted by the seven-member group of experts, only three won a majority, while the hardline proposal was backed merely by the two People’s Party representatives on the committee.

“The goal of our group was to present options to translate the demands into law which are compatible with the constitution and international law,” said Heinrich Koller, a former senior justice ministry official who headed the committee. He said the mandate was not to find a compromise.

“The group was unable to find a common position which is hardly surprising given the different points of view from the outset,” Koller added.


The People’s Party – the driving force behind the initiative – wants all non-Swiss convicted of a list of about 30 different crimes, including welfare fraud, to be expelled, regardless of the seriousness of the offense. Exceptions would only be allowed for those criminals who would face death or torture in their country of origin.

However, opponents say such a strict implementation is in breach of the constitution and international human rights agreements.

Koller warned of a conviction by the European Court of Human rights and of repercussions on a series of bilateral treaties with the European Union if the hardline proposal was accepted.

“A small country like Switzerland should put particular emphasis on the respect of human rights to prove its reliability,” he said.

For his part, People’s Party representative Georg Rutz reiterated that the majority proposals were “unsatisfactory” and the outcome of last year’s ballot proved that a majority of voters wanted the courts to be much tougher.

He also argued that there was no need for Switzerland to “slavishly follow the legislation of the European court”.

Six-month sentence

The three majority options presented to the media on Tuesday link deportations to a prison sentence of at least six months.

They allow exceptions for citizens of the European Union to comply with the terms of bilateral treaties between Switzerland and Brussels. It also exempts people from deportation taking into account their personal situation and practical reasons.

The report says about 3,400 people would have to be expelled annually under the terms of the majority proposals.

“That is roughly the figure the hardline initiative called for and therefore it is not correct to argue that the proposals are ignoring a voter decision,” said Roger Schneeberger, representative of the 26 cantonal justice and police departments.

The People’s Party proposal would lead to expulsion orders for more than 16,000 convicted foreigners.

It is now up to the justice ministry to prepare a draft bill for the government, including consultations with major parties and institutions, before parliament will discuss the proposed legal amendments. But it is unlikely to be tabled in both chambers before 2013.


The group of experts was set up last December in the wake of the nationwide ballot.

A 53 per cent majority of voters approved a proposal for the automatic expulsion of foreign offenders convicted of crimes ranging from murder to breaking and entry as well as social security fraud. It denies judges discretion over deportation.


A counter-proposal by government and parliament which called for a case-by-case examination won only 46 per cent of the vote.

It was the second time within 12 months that the Swiss approved an initiative despite opposition by the government and parliament. The electorate also accepted a controversial ban on the construction of minarets in November 2009.

The run-up to the vote was marked by an emotional campaign with a controversial black sheep poster and a dispute within the centre-left parties over whether or not to support the counter-proposal.

No compromise

The People’s Party said the three majority proposals were completely unacceptable as under the terms of the expert group only one in five foreign criminals could be expelled.

“It is not admissible to flout the decision of voters in such a blatant way,” a statement said.

The party called on the government to “implement the initiative correctly” and announced it would present an additional report over the next few months.

Ahead of the presentation of the report on Tuesday, the People’s Party president Toni Brunner strongly criticised the authorities, saying they were “obviously prepared to trample on a democratic decision.”

Quoted by the SonntagsZeitung, Brunner hinted that the party would launch a new, similar initiative to enshrine its proposal to the letter in the Swiss constitution.

Initiative and counter-proposal

The initiative won 52.9% of the vote on November 28, 2010 while the parliamentary counter-proposal made 45.8%.

Turnout was above average at 53%.

The working group, comprising seven members including two representatives of the Swiss People’s Party, was set up by Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga in December.

Its mandate was to seek solutions to make the rightwing demands compatible with international agreements and the Swiss constitution.

The justice ministry is to prepare its proposal for the government. The bill will then be submitted to parliament to decide.

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