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Torture review Switzerland criticised for refugee treatment

Guarantees for returning refugees lacking, says UN panel.

(Keystone)

United Nations experts on torture have criticised Switzerland, saying it could do better to assure refugees’ human rights.

While several experts on the UN committee against torture saluted Swiss engagement on human rights and its application of the organisation’s convention against torture, others questioned whether the convention may be threatened if Swiss law is to take primacy over international law.

“It appears that Switzerland places its security above human dignity,” one expert said during the committee’s review of torture in Switzerland – the country’s seventh periodic report by the committee.

The committee, consisting of ten experts, condemned the forcible return of refugees from Switzerland and reprimanded, in particular, the means employed in cases involving people who were sent back to Sri Lanka and Somalia.

In Geneva on Monday, members of the forum said that not enough official guarantees were in place to ensure that returning refugees would not be tortured in their home countries.

The committee also recommended that Switzerland use the term “torture” in its penal code.

Switzerland has been party to the UN convention against torture, which defines torture and sets a legal basis for the prevention and condemnation of acts of torture. The Swiss penal code incriminates torture when it is qualified as a crime against humanity or a serious violation of the Geneva Convention, protecting civilians, soldiers and prisoners of war during combat.

On the defense

On Tuesday, Switzerland responded to the critique, arguing that Swiss legislation is strong enough to fight against torture. 

Switzerland stated that the Swiss penal code punishes crimes as detailed in the UN convention against torture severely enough. The Swiss also reassured the committee of the primacy of international law over Swiss law, citing a Federal Court decision.

Last week, the committee against torture deliberated the situation in Iraq. It is expected to review Slovakia before the committee’s session concludes on August 15.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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