The United Nations special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diène, has reiterated criticism of Switzerland in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
His comments were made at the council's second session, which is focusing on Lebanon and sensitive topics including racism, migration and freedom of religion and expression.
Speaking just days before the Swiss vote on tightening immigration and asylum laws, Diène levelled criticism at Switzerland for what he said were discriminatory tendencies. He further maintained that racism had become an instrument in political debate.
"In Switzerland, talk about the defence of national identity has assumed greater importance in political discussions and in the media, which shows a political climate influenced by xenophobic tendencies," the UN envoy explained in his speech to the 47 members of the council, including Switzerland.
Diène made similar comments in January when he visited Switzerland to gather information for his report into racism in ten countries. After visiting Brazil and Japan, he chose Switzerland as it was a multicultural society that had seen numerous votes affecting foreigners.
The UN envoy's full report will be presented during a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council in March 2007.
In his speech to the council on Tuesday, Diène deplored what he called the weak political and legal aspects of Switzerland's anti-racism policies.
"This is particularly noticeable regarding the tendency to criminalise foreigners, immigrants and asylum-seekers, and the treatment of immigration and asylum purely from a security point of view," he noted.
He criticised "the high number of acts of racist and xenophobic violence by the police against certain groups", as well as the impunity that the police enjoy, according to their victims.
The Swiss ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Blaise Godet, told swissinfo that Switzerland would give a full reply when the rapporteur presented his complete report.
Godet said Switzerland was pleased that the UN envoy saw the usefulness of the federal authorities' anti-racism programmes.
"Over the past few years the Federal Commission against Racism and the Federal Migration Office have stepped up their collaboration with the cantons and the local authorities to boost integration and combat discrimination," he noted.
The ambassador added that the article about integration in the amended legislation on foreigners would strengthen the legal side of its integration policy.
However, Daniel Bolomey, secretary general of Amnesty International Switzerland does not agree.
"Before the Human Rights Council, Switzerland claims to be doing its utmost to improve its integration policy and fight against racism," he stated.
"But comments made by Justice Minister Christoph Blocher during the campaign for the new asylum and foreigners laws, and the regulations themselves are extremely worrying."
swissinfo with agencies
The UN special rapporteur on racism carries out visits to various states to see if there are problems related to discrimination.
After these visits, he submits a report to the UN's Commission on Human Rights.
In 2002, Switzerland invited all the UN's special rapporteurs to visit the country and file their conclusions.
Reported racist incidents in Switzerland (according to Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism):
2006: 37 cases so far, including 7 of verbal racism
2005: 111 cases, including 44 of verbal racism
2004: 109 cases, including 29 of verbal racism
2003: 116 cases
2002: 128 cases