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Switzerland working to fulfil pledge to stop racism

Despite heightened public awareness, the fight against racism still has a long way to go

(Keystone Archive)

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, is leading a delegation to Sweden for the second international conference against racism and intolerance to report on Swiss efforts to combat the problem. The government says much has been achieved since last year's meeting.

The Stockholm International Forum brings together representatives from more than 50 countries who will assess how much progress they have made in fulfilling the pledges made last year.

The deputy head of the Swiss delegation, Peter Maurer, told swissinfo that they will deliver a "progress report" of the steps Switzerland has taken to stamp out intolerance.

Measures include a special legal provision outlawing "racist acts in public, inciting racial hatred and the denial of genocide".

The government has also set up a working group to examine measures to deal with the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material over the Internet.

Other initiatives include regular meetings of cantonal ministers of education to discuss ways of promoting tolerance through teaching programmes.

At last year's conference, the interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, pledged to tackle racism through education. She argued that teaching tolerance and an understanding of the past would stem xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Switzerland.

One year on, anti-racism activists remain sceptical about the progress that has been made on the issue. Katherine Weber, secretary for the Movement Against the Political Police, told swissinfo that Switzerland has not delivered on its promise.

"So far the government hasn't done much against racism. We have some laws that fight racism and give the police some means and measures to combat racist attacks, but if you look at the school system, the national and local governments haven't done enough."

Peter Maurer, who will be travelling with Metzler, counters that the federal government's powers in this regard are limited. He told swissinfo that Bern does not have the power to control education programmes, for instance, which fall under the authority of the cantons.

"One problems is that education is a cantonal competence. Perhaps the public focus has been on lawmaking, but I am encouraged by the endeavours in the cantons and local communities, and I wouldn't share the view that in Switzerland the focus is too much on legalistic measures," Maurer said.

While skinhead activity and occasional attacks on ethnic minorities persist, Maurer notes that this is a more blatant expression of intolerance. He says society as a whole needs become more aware of the insidious racism that exists in daily life, such as in schools and the work place.

The Stockholm forum aims to be a kind of workshop for the exchange of ideas on riding the world of intolerance.

"Politicians, researchers and experts from several countries will gather for a couple of days in common search of ways of combating and preventing racist and anti-democratic ideas," the Forum said in a statement.

The Swedish prime minister, Göran Persson, sounded a note of caution by saying that "threatening trends" of anti-Semitism and racism were pervasive in many countries, and urged governments to act.

by Samantha Tonkin


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