UN condemns "xenophobic" People's Party

Enough! We must protect the population instead of looking after criminals, says the controversial advert

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has accused the rightwing Swiss People’s Party of stoking up prejudice against foreigners ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

This content was published on October 20, 2003 - 11:55

The People’s Party hit back, slamming the organisation for sticking its nose in Switzerland’s internal affairs.

It is not the first time the UN refugee agency has taken the People’s Party to task over its tough stance on foreigners and asylum.

Last November, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, condemned a proposal by the rightwing party to clamp down on asylum seekers.

This time the UNHCR said it was forced to take action after viewing a provocative campaign run by the People’s Party.

“These are some of the worst elections ads we’ve seen in Europe,” said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville.

“We find this alarming. We’ve noticed this trend in some other countries but we haven’t seen a major political party going this far in recent times.”

Soft on crime

The People's Party ran a full-page advertisement last week attacking Switzerland's other political parties for being soft on crime.

Under police mugshots of convicted criminals, ran the statement: “Here are the results of the policies of the left and its friends: pampered criminals, shameless asylum seekers and a brutal Albanian mafioso.”

Ignoring protests from the centre-left Social Democrats and anti-racism campaigners, the party repeated the advertisement on Thursday.

Citing official statistics, the advert claimed the number of murders in Switzerland had risen by 32 per cent since 1994, and that there had been 70 per cent more rapes.

The People’s Party campaign has also drawn heavy criticism from much of the media and many politicians. The country’s anti-racism league launched legal proceedings against the party earlier this week.

“Sophisticated campaign”

The UNHCR told swissinfo it had a duty - and a mandate - to protect refugees in the face of what it described as a sophisticated campaign.

“When you see ads like this, you’ve got no option,” said Colville. “We see this type of negative stereotyping, manipulation of statistics and distortion of the issues, as really very menacing for refugees.”

The People’s Party was quick to react to the agency’s attack, arguing that an international organisation had no right to dictate what should be discussed during an election campaign.

“Organisations like the United Nations should not get involved in Switzerland’s elections,” said party spokesman Yves Bichsel.

Party anger

The People’s Party also denied that the campaign was racist or that the figures quoted were false.

“It has nothing to do with foreigners in general. It has to do with criminals in Switzerland, who happen to be mostly foreigners,” said Aliki Panayides, deputy secretary-general of the People’s Party

“And our statistics are official, so we didn't invent anything.”

This latest intervention by the UN refugee agency has raised concerns that the publicity may ultimately benefit the People’s Party.

“It may do, and that is the right of the Swiss people,” said Rupert Colville. “We’ve simply been forced into this situation. We couldn’t sit there and be an accomplice to a really distorted, clever and sophisticated campaign.”


in brief

The UNHCR has accused the Swiss People’s Party of stoking up prejudice against foreigners ahead of the parliamentary elections on Sunday.

The body said it was forced to take action following a provocative advertising campaign run by the People’s Party.

The People’s Party has denied the campaign is racist and dismissed the criticism as interference in Swiss sovereignty.

Last November, the UNHCR condemned a proposal by the rightwing party to clamp down on asylum seekers

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