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New publication outlines troubled history of ‘administrative detention’

An expert commission has released the first of a set of publications aimed at highlighting the historical Swiss practice of “administrative detention” – the placing of “undesirables” in state facilities.

The independent commission, overseen by former Zurich parliamentarian Markus Notter, was mandated by the government to unearth the historical context and conditions for the practice, which continued until 1981.

On Monday, the group released the first of 10 publications planned between now and September, after which it will present a synthesis conclusion and recommendations for government.

The initial publication is based around portraits: some 60 concrete stories were gathered from those who underwent the practice of administrative detention; what they experienced, and how it affected their lives subsequently.

The commission is also organizing an exhibition that will travel around the country in the coming months to showcase the portraits and findings. Today, it began in Bern.

In addition, educational syllabi have been produced in collaboration with the commission that can be used by primary and secondary level teachers to raise the issue with younger students.

For decades, individuals viewed as “indolent”, “drunkards”, or “dissolute” – children and adults alike – were placed in administrative detention in Switzerland for disciplinary and re-educational purposes. Often no court decision was involved, and many were forced to work, while some were abused either physically or sexually.

Although the publication released on Monday is available only in the Swiss national languages of French, German, and Italian, the commission’s website provides further information and media about its work, and the history of those subjected to administrative detention.