Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Switzerland is a constitutional democracy with a federal
structure. Legislative power is vested in the 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.
Human rights are widely respected. The most notable human
rights issue in 1991 was the call for further reduction of
inequalities experienced by women (see Section 5). The
authorities moved to restore public confidence in the
collection and protection of personal data on 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.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no political killings.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of abductions or disappearances.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution provides freedom from all of the above. There
were no reports 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 usually 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.
      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 from canton to canton.
The Swiss Government moved in 1991 to ease public concern over
the collection and protection of personal data about individual
citizens, allowing those affected to view an extract (fiche) of
their file. Parliament discussed a new law designed to protect
personal data. The Government also proposed a new law on state
security in order to define the framework for actions to
safeguard national security.
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 that are determined to represent
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 nearly always led to prosecution and
conviction. A new law to ameliorate this situation, which took
effect in July, maintains that refusal to serve is a punishable
offense, but if the refusal stems from reasons of conscience,
the prescribed sentence is a period of community service rather
than 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 may emigrate without difficulty. Switzerland traditionally
has been a haven for refugees, but public concern over the
growing number of asylum seekers, many of whom come for
economic reasons, created pressure on the Governnient to
implement swifter processing of asylum seekers and expel more
quickly 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.
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 are 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.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Human rights advocacy groups in Switzerland concern themselves
almost exclusively with lobbying the Swiss and other
governments about human rights situations in other countries.
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 ICRC—are based there. The ICRC is made up of Swiss
nationals, and Swiss participate prominently in other
humanitarian nongovernmental organizations.
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. The 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
have been traditionally dominated by men.
In order to focus public awareness on discrimination, the Swiss
Trade Union Federation organized a women's strike on June 14 in
which some 10,000 women actively participated, while up to half
a million supported it in some form without walking off their
jobs. The themes stressed were that women earn 30 percent less
than men employed in ecjuivalent jobs, that social security laws
discriminate against married women, and that, as a result of
discrimination, women occupy few senior, managerial positions
in business.
Swiss policymakers have become aware in recent years of the
issue of violence against 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. Each
city has an emergency telephone number through which women who
are victims of violence may obtain help and counseling.
Specialists work with police authorities to interview women who
report attacks. Laws exist against wife beating and similar
crimes. Parliament approved a change in the penal code,
explicitly making spousal rape a criminal offense. While the
penal code is established at the federal level, enforcement is
the responsibility of the cantons. Thus, variations in
enforcement may 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 quality of these languages.
The Federal Council proposed a constitutional amendment in 1991
to bolster support for the minority languages. The amendment
would charge the cantons and the Federal Government to protect
and promote all Swiss languages in the regions in which they
are spoken. The amendment would also make Romansch an official
language in communications between the Federal Government and
Romansch citizens or institutions.
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.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
All workers, including foreign workers in Switzerland, have
freedom to associate freely, to join unions of their choice,
and to select their own representatives. However, less than a
third of the country's labor force belongs to a union today.
The change from an industrial to a service-based economy, the
high standard of living, and an economy at full employment are
some of the reasons for the decline in union membership.
Unions are free to publicize their views and determine their
own policies to represent member interests without government
interference. Unions may join federations or affiliate with
international bodies.
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. Federal employees and most cantonal and local employees
do not have the right to strike. The only exception is the
canton of Jura where both local and cantonal authorities have
the right to strike. There were no strikes of note in 1991
except the women's strike of June 14 noted in Section 5.
      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 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.
Officials estimate that 30 to 40 percent of all Swiss workers
are covered by collective agreements. There are no export
processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
There is no forced or compulsory labor, although there is no
specific statute or constitutional ban on it.
      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 established 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 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 a standard of living among the highest 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, Trades, 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 for
women were under review in 1991; the Government proposed to
eliminate restrictions against female Sunday or weekend work in
its effort to remove sexist bias from the labor law. There
were no allegations of worker rights abuses from domestic or
foreign sources.