Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

“Something is culturally wrong in Switzerland”

Dick Marty calls the vote to ban minarets "completely incomprehensible" Keystone

Switzerland’s image as a country of human rights has been rocked by the ban on the construction of minarets, according to a Swiss member of the Council of Europe.

Dick Marty, also a senator for the centre-right Radical Party, tells that to reawaken the ghost of a religious war is irresponsible. December 10 is Human Rights Day. What is your personal wish regarding human rights?

Dick Marty: That society in general becomes more aware of how important human rights are and that it requires a daily struggle to maintain these rights. You are known in the Council of Europe as a champion of human rights. How do they react in Strasbourg to the minaret ban?

D.M.: This ban is completely incomprehensible. I find it simply grotesque, because looked at unemotionally we’ve voted on a “non-problem”: in Switzerland we’re inundated by neither minarets nor applications to build them. Most Swiss had no idea that for a long time we’ve had four minarets and more than 200 places of Muslim culture or prayer.

The ban touches on the freedom of religion and religious peace. In the past our country suffered terribly from religious wars, and for me waking this ghost is irresponsible and dangerous. In the [financial] crisis there’s a risk that people’s frustrations get channelled here.

It’s not easy explaining the minaret result abroad. I always try to show that the Libyan affair played a big role [two Swiss businessmen have been held hostage in Libya since July 2008 following the Geneva arrest of the son of Moammar Gaddafi, despite an apology from Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz].

And I promise that we’re doing everything possible to restore Switzerland’s credibility. We need to change the way we discuss politics. The parties to the left and in the centre need to sit down and work out how to stop this “politics of emotion” and return to the real issues. A popular vote is in the pipeline that will decide on whether people without Swiss passports who commit a crime will be automatically deported. Where does this trend for such initiatives come from?

D.M.: Following [November 2008’s] initiative to extend indefinitely the statute of limitations for paedophile crimes, the minaret initiative is already the third people’s initiative to violate basic rights and the human rights convention. Looked at objectively all three are stupid.

Because the politicians are not in the position to solve the right problems, they increasingly play with emotions. For me the most dramatic problem at the moment is youth unemployment. Civilised societies should give young people a right to work. We should vote on that.

I’m pinning the blame not just on the Swiss People’s Party [the rightwing party that backed the minaret initiative] – the other parties are just as responsible because they aided and abetted this game. They didn’t get very involved in the minaret campaign – nor did the government. The whole thing was underestimated – although the danger was clear. Instead they were more occupied with the ban of war exports [which was rejected]. The debate has resurfaced on whether people should be able to vote on fundamental human rights. Are tighter laws necessary?

D.M.: Actually no – we just need a government that has the knowledge and courage to apply the fundamentals of our constitution.

I maintain however that the government is not in the position to do that, and I therefore wonder whether we don’t need a constitutional court, like virtually all democracies in the world. This would provide control and balance between the various state powers. It would also prevent decisions being taken according to the emotion of the moment.

The situation is even more blatant with the deportation initiative than with the minarets. It is clearly going to violate non-refoulement, a fundamental principle of international and humanitarian law [that concerns the protection of refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened]. That the government cannot see this, I find absolutely scandalous. The presidency of the Council of Europe is currently held by Switzerland, which has traditionally pushed for human rights. Is Switzerland still credible, following the minaret vote?

D.M.: Yes, but our task has been made considerably harder. We are credible because this decision was actually taken by the people.

Nevertheless I believe our position has been weakened. Above all we’ve lost this image of democracy. In this respect the vote on November 29 has been a disaster.

The dramatic thing is that there have only been losers: Muslims, the Swiss abroad, the economy.

The yes to the minaret ban is a sign that something is emotionally and culturally wrong in Switzerland. It is the sign of a society that has become weak. A weak society always needs an enemy to hate. The Muslims have now filled that role – it’s as if everything bad is the fault of the Muslims.

People forget that in the past 100 years the worst massacres, such as the Second World War or Srebrenica, were carried out by Christians. What will happen if the minaret ban goes to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and is rejected?

D.M.: There are three possibilities: we don’t implement the ban, we vote again, or we have to leave the Council of Europe.

If we want to behave like an honest signatory – and that was always Switzerland’s policy – we have to say that in this case we are not in a position to implement the human rights convention properly.

You can’t pick and choose basic rights. They are non-negotiable.

Corinne Buchser, (Translated from German by Thomas Stephens)

Marty was appointed by the Council of Europe in November 2005 to investigate claims that the CIA had set up secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

In his initial report, published in June 2006, he concluded that 14 European countries had colluded with the US in a “spider’s web” of human rights abuses.

Marty said other countries, including Switzerland, had been involved actively or passively in the detention or transfer of unknown persons.

On November 10, 2007 Marty was awarded the top prize by the Swiss branch of the International Society for Human Rights.

Most Read
Swiss Abroad

Most Discussed

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here . Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR