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UN group demands reversal of Swiss minaret ban

Switzerland should take steps to ensure that popular initiatives do not contravene international law, the UN Human Rights Committee said today. It notably called for the repeal of a Swiss vote banning the construction of minarets.

The recommendations, released Thursday, came after the fourth periodic review of Switzerland by the members of the UN Human Rights Committee earlier in July.

Though broadly positive, the 18-member panel found that several popular initiatives in recent years conflicted with Swiss obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As well as voicing concern about the proposed “auto-determination initiative” – which would place Swiss law above international law – the final report notably criticized the prohibition of minaret construction in Switzerland, voted in 2009.

“The banning of minarets should be repealed”, said the committee vice-president Yuval Shany today, speaking to journalists in Geneva.

However, beyond revoking the relevant article of the Swiss constitution, Shany did not give any indication of what concrete measures the country could take to ensure better future harmonization between domestic popular initiatives and international obligations.

Treatment of minorities

Generally, the committee said that it was “impressed by the positive developments” in Switzerland since 2009, the last time it met to appraise the country.

It highlighted for praise the establishing of the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT), in 2010, as well as a 2012 federal law aiming do more to combat forced marriages.

However, it did raise concern about several areas – mainly involving religious discrimination and police discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Beyond the minaret recommendation, several initiatives against the wearing of the Muslim veil – so called “burka bans” – as well as religiously-driven rulings in some Basel schools, were labelled a worrying “accumulation” by Shany.

The committee also cited cases of police action taken against minorities, including the case of a Nigerian man who died in Zurich in 2010 while undergoing forced deportation.

To tackle such treatmentand ensure the responsible actors are brought to justice, the committee recommended that an independent complaint mechanism which would investigate allegations of police violence be set up.

Following the recommendations of the committee, which were heard by Swiss representative Martin Dumermuth from the Federal Office for Justice (FOJ), Switzerland has one year in which to respond and to update the committee on steps taken to redress these issues.

swissinfo.ch and agencies/dos