Racism report: progress made, but could do better

A swastika sprayed on the building site of a Muslim centre in Payerne, western Switzerland, in April Alain Wicht/LaLiberte

This content was published on September 16, 2014 - 15:14 and agencies

Switzerland has made positive developments regarding racism over the past five years but some concerns remain, including the rise of xenophobia and insufficient support for the integration of some migrant groups. 

These are the conclusions of Christian Ahlund, chairman of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which on Tuesday published its fifth report on SwitzerlandExternal link

The ECRI welcomed the fact that since the very critical previous report in 2009, new institutions at cantonal level had been given the task of assisting victims of racism and discrimination and that several media were combatting speech on their websites. 

It acknowledged that the government and cantons had adopted integration programmes and a system of indicators will measure their impact. Steps have also been taken to ensure early education for children with a migrant background. 

But despite this progress, the authors said some issues continued to be cause for concern. 

“Following continuing negative trends in political discourse, black people, the Yenish and other Roma groups perceive a considerable deterioration of their image and living conditions. Refugees, cross-border workers and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] persons are also the target for xenophobic, homophobic and transphobic discourse. These same groups are faced with considerable discrimination, for example on the labour market.” 

ECRI report 2014

The report was prepared following ECRI’s contact visit to Switzerland in October 2013 and takes account of developments up to March 20, 2014. 

ECRI is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance and discrimination on grounds such as race, national/ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion and language (racial discrimination); it prepares reports and issues recommendations to member states. 

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Structural shortcomings 

They added that, as a result of racial profiling, black people lived in fear of being subject to police controls including public arrest, being made to undress and subject to body searches for drugs. 

Also, young LGBT people are often the victims of verbal attacks at school and few are able to count on the support of their family or friends. “Many experts working with young people have little knowledge of the situation of young LGBT persons and the risk factors to which they are exposed when they ‘come out’”. 

What’s more, Switzerland still does neither have comprehensive and effective legislation to combat racism, homophobia and transphobia, nor easily accessible judicial procedures, the report said. 

“The police do not systematically register offences having a racist, homophobic or transphobic motivation. The Federal Commission against Racism has still not been given the key power of being able to hear and consider complaints of racism. At the same time, it suffers from a lack of independence.” 

The authors pointed out that Geneva, Vaud and Zurich were the only cantons to have appointed authorities tasked with promoting and protecting the rights of LGBT people. 

ECRI made several recommendations to the Swiss authorities, of which the following two require “priority implementation” and will be reviewed by ECRI in two years. 

First, to confer to the bodies specialised in combating racism and discrimination the competence to hear and consider complaints; second, to task one or more independent authorities with combating intolerance and discrimination against LGBT people.

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