Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990
Switzerland is a constitutional democracy with a federal
structure. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral
parliament. Given the nation's linguistic and religious
diversity, the Swiss political system emphasizes local and
national political consensus and grants considerable autonomy
to individual cantons.
The Swiss armed forces are a militia based on universal
military service for able-bodied males. There is virtually no
standing army apart from training cadres and a few essential
headquarters staff functions. Police duties are primarily a
responsibility of the individual cantons, which have their own
distinct police forces. The National Police Authority has a
coordinating role and relies on the cantons for actual law
Switzerland has a free enterprise industrial and service
economy highly dependent on international trade. There has
been virtual full employment and labor peace for many years.
The standard of living is one of the highest in the world.
The only known human rights problem during 1990 was the
Government's alleged excesses in monitoring the activities of
Swiss citizens. Switzerland maintained its own strong
association with human rights issues, exemplified by hosting
the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The headquarters
of the International Labor Organization and the International
Committee of the Red Cross are located in Switzerland.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no political killings.
There were no reports of abductions, secret arrests, or
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution provides freedom from all of the above, and
there were no allegations of any violations.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile is provided
by law. A detained person may not be held longer than 24
hours without a warrant of arrest issued by the magistrate
conducting the preliminary investigation. A suspect must
immediately be shown the warrant and has the right to contact
legal counsel as soon as a warrant is issued. A suspect may
be detained with a warrant until an investigation is completed
but the length of investigative detention is always reviewed
by higher judicial authority, and investigations are typically
completed quickly. Release on personal recognizance or bail
is granted unless the examining magistrate believes the person
is a danger to society or will not appear for trial.
There is no summary exile, nor is exile used as a means of
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for public trials. All courts of
first instance are cantonal courts, with right of appeal to
the federal courts and freedom from interference by other
branches of government. Minor cases are tried by a single
judge, difficult cases by a panel of judges, and murder or
other serious crimes by a public jury. Even the most serious
cases are usually brought to trial within a few months. There
are no political prisoners.
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Police entry into the premises of a person suspected of a
criminal offense is regulated by cantonal legislation.
Regulations differ widely among the cantons.
Allegations of a certain kind of government invasion of
privacy became a significant political issue in 1990. A
parliamentary investigation revealed that judicial and police
authorities held extensive files on Swiss citizens, some of
whom were apparently suspected of activities damaging to
national security. It was also revealed that the Military
Department kept files. While many of these files were not
being kept up to date, the revelation provoked intense public
attention and demands by citizens to see their files. The
Government established a procedure so that citizens could view
an extract (fiche) of their files and appointed special
officials for this purpose. This procedure was in effect
throughout 1990. The episode sparked consideration of new
guidelines to ensure privacy as well as access to government
files on private citizens.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
An independent press, effective judiciary, and democratic
political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and press.
Groups or associations determined to be a potential threat to
the State may have restrictions placed on their freedom of
speech and press. No groups are restricted at the present
time. Broadcast media are government funded but possess
editorial autonomy, and foreign broadcast media are freely
available. Press and publishing are private enterprises
operated without government intervention. Academic freedom is
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The only restriction on peaceful assembly and association is a
requirement to obtain permits from police authorities before
holding public meetings. These are routinely granted unless
authorities have reason to believe the meeting will lead to
c. Freedom of Religion
Switzerland enjoys religious freedom. There is no single
state church, but individual cantons may support a particular
church out of public funds, and most cantons do so. Foreign
clergy are free to perform their duties in Switzerland. The
legal requirement for universal male military service provides
no exemption for conscientious objectors. They may apply for
military service that does not entail bearing arms, but
refusal to serve has in the past nearly always led to
prosecution and conviction. Parliament in 1990 approved a
government bill which, while maintaining that refusal to serve
was a punishable offense, allows courts to sentence
conscientious objectors to a period of community service
instead of prison.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Swiss citizens have freedom to travel in or outside the
country and can emigrate without difficulty. Switzerland has
traditionally been a haven for refugees, but public concern
over the growing number of asylum seekers, many of whom come
for economic reasons, led to revision of the asylum law. The
revision provides swifter processing of asylum seekers, makes
Switzerland a less attractive destination for economic
migrants, and facilitates expulsion of those whose applications
are rejected. Asylum seekers continue to receive orderly
consideration, and those whose applications are rejected are
allowed to stay temporarily if their home country is torn by
war or insurrection. This is the case with many Lebanese and
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Switzerland is a highly developed constitutional democracy.
There is universal adult suffrage by secret ballot in federal
elections. Elections are free and contested actively by four
major national parties and at least a dozen significant
regional or minor parties. Initiative and referendum
procedures provide unusually intense popular involvement in
the legislative process. Participation by women in politics
has been limited historically but continues to expand slowly.
The last restrictions on female suffrage were eliminated in
1990 when the Supreme Court ruled that henceforth women must
be permitted to vote in the cantonal and municipal elections
of Appenzell-Innerrhoden canton.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Switzerland cooperates with international and nongovernmental
groups in all areas of human rights. All major international
human rights groups are active in Switzerland, and some of the
leading ones—e.g., the United Nations Human Rights Commission
and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—are
based there. The ICRC is made up of Swiss nationals, and
Swiss play prominent roles in other humanitarian
nongovernmental organizations. Human rights advocacy groups
in Switzerland concern themselves almost exclusively with
lobbying the Swiss and other governments about human rights
situations in other countries.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination against
women in the workplace, government and other sources noted
that further implementation was necessary to ensure equal pay
and other benefits for women. A special government office of
equal rights for men and women addresses this problem. A
Federal Commission for Women's Rights and several private
groups, e.g., the Federation of Women's Organizations, monitor
and promote women's rights. Discrimination that persists
today is social, not legal, but it nevertheless hinders
opportunities for women in fields that traditionally have been
dominated by men.
Swiss policymakers have become aware in recent years of the
issue of violence toward women. Observers believe that many
cases go unreported, so that accurate statistics are lacking.
There is, however, widespread agreement that a problem
exists. The Federation of Women's Organizations and other
women's advocacy groups have heightened public consciousness
about this issue. Each city has an emergency telephone number
through which women who are victims of violence can obtain
help and counseling. Specialists work with police authorities
to interview women who report attacks. Appropriate laws exist
against wife beating and similar crimes, although there is
some disagreement as to whether existing law adequately
prohibits spousal rape. Parliament included discussion and
possible action on this point as part of a review of the penal
code. While the penal code is established at the federal
level, enforcement is the responsibility of the cantons.
Thus, variations in enforcement can occur.
Italian and Romansch linguistic minorities (respectively about
10 and 1 percent of the population) express concern that the
limited resources made available to them by the Federal
Government endanger the continued vitality of these languages.
The Federal Government's policy is to ensure, through
apportionment of funds, that all linguistic groups have
facilities and means to carry out cultural activities in their
own languages. The Government held consultations with cantons
and other groups on possible revision of the constitutional
article on languages, in part to strengthen protection for the
minority languages. The revision would make explicit the
responsibility of the Federation and the cantons to preserve
the four national languages, especially the two (Italian and
Romansch) that are least spoken in Switzerland. The Federation
would support the cantons in their own efforts to maintain
usage of the minority languages
Employment opportunities and residence permits are limited for
foreigners; some assert that this reflects racial prejudice
and discrimination, but these limitations apply to all
non-Swiss. There is no discrimination on religious grounds.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
All workers, including public sector workers and foreign
workers in Switzerland, have freedom to associate freely, to
join unions of their choice, and to select their own
representatives. Unions are free to publicize their views and
determine their own policies to represent member interests
without government interference. Unions may join federations
or international bodies. Swiss trade union federations belong
to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and
the World Confederation of Labor, as well as to the European
Trade Union Confederation. The right to strike is legally
recognized, but a unique labor peace agreement between unions
and employers in existence since the 1930 's has resulted in
fewer than 20 strikes per year since 1975.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Swiss law gives workers the right to organize and bargain
collectively and protects them from acts of antiunion
discrimination. The industrial sector is generally unionized;
in the service sector, union membership is less widespread.
The Government encourages voluntary negotiations between
employer and worker organizations, although for the most part
employers and workers alike seek to exclude the Government
from involving itself in their affairs. There are no export
processing zones in Switzerland.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
There is no forced or compulsory labor. While there is no
specific statute or constitutional ban on compulsory labor,
legislation regulating conditions of employment and,
specifically, the rights of a worker upon terminating
employment make clear that compulsory labor would be illegal.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The minimum age for employment of children is 15 years.
Children over 13 may be employed in light duties (e.g.,
helping in retail stores) for not more than 9 hours a week
during the school year and 15 hours otherwise. Employment
between ages 15 and 20 is strictly regulated. For example,
youths may not work at night, on Sundays, or under hazardous
or dangerous conditions. These laws are observed in practice
and enforced through inspections by the Federal Office of
Industry, Trades, and Labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage. Employer associations and
unions negotiate industrial wages during the collective
bargaining process. The Labor Act establishes a maximum
45-hour workweek for blue- and white-collar workers in
industry, offices, and retail trades, and a 50-hour workweek
for all other workers. The workweek for blue-collar workers
in most industries is 43 hours and for white-collar workers
from 40 to 43 hours. Overtime is limited by law to 120 hours
annually. The economy is normally at or near full employment.
The resulting take-home pay provides Swiss workers and their
families with one of the highest standards of living in the
The Labor Act and the Federal Code of Obligations contain
extensive regulations to protect worker health and safety.
The regulations are rigorously enforced by the Federal Office
of Industry, Professions, and Labor, providing a high standard
of worker health and safety. Female workers may not be
employed in dangerous work, and women in industrial
enterprises may not work at night or on Sundays. These
special protections were under review in 1990; the Government
proposed to eliminate restrictions against females working on
Sundays or weekends in its effort to remove sexist bias from
the labor law. There were no allegations of worker rights
abuses from domestic or foreign sources.