Black anti-racism campaigners in Switzerland are to set up an independent watchdog to monitor discrimination and racist violence. They hope the new body, which will come into being on November 3, will provide a clearer picture of the true extent of racism in Switzerland as well as providing better support for its victims.
"We think it's necessary to defend blacks here in Switzerland," Robert Samo, a member of the Group for Action against Anti-Black Racism, told swissinfo. "If together we try to form one organisation, we will grow stronger together and become more credible.
"Over the past few years and months there have been so many incidents showing that racism against blacks is a reality, and that is a very bad thing," he added. "We cannot accept that."
The decision to establish a central monitoring body was taken at the annual meeting of the Group for Action against Anti-Black Racism, which was held in Bern at the weekend. Since its creation in April last year, GRAN, as the group is known in Switzerland, has been campaigning vociferously for the issue of racism to be taken more seriously.
Racism encountered daily
In June, GRAN issued a "declaration" calling on the federal authorities to crack down on discrimination. According to Samo, blacks in Switzerland encounter racism on an almost daily basis, whether looking for a job, a flat or even just a table in a restaurant.
Samo added that once the new watchdog was up and running, Switzerland's black community, which is estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 strong, would finally have somewhere to turn to.
"When there is a racist act committed we will immediately give information to the authorities and contact lawyers to help us," he said. "We want the organisation to act as an observer to anti-black acts."
Kanyana Mutombo, editor of the journal, "Regard Africains", and member of GRAN, agreed that all the disparate black organisations and communities living in Switzerland had been struggling against racism on their own for too long.
He said many blacks were unaware of existing anti-racism groups, and those that were aware of them were not necessarily confident of receiving help.
UN conference against racism
The timing of the announcement is not without significance, coming just a fortnight before world leaders convene in Durban, South Africa, for the United Nations World Conference against Racism. Mutombo told swissinfo that he was disappointed by the apparent failure of the Swiss government to take a leading role at the summit.
"Switzerland has neither been involved in the slave trade or been a colonial power," he said. "She was therefore in a position to act as a mediator on the crucial issue of compensation owed to Africans in recognition of the wrongs incurred by the slave trade and colonialism.
"She could have put forward new proposals and she hasn't done that. Switzerland has simply aligned herself with other western countries. This attitude makes no sense and it is a real pity. Therefore we will continue to fight to be heard in Bern."
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