Switzerland is preparing an anti-terrorism law that could violate international human rights standards and encourage suppression of political dissent worldwide, UN human rights experts said today.
This is a surprising assessment about a country that has long excelled in human rights protection through numerous international conventions. It also houses a large number of governmental and non-governmental human rights organizations, including the UN Office for Human Rights.
The reputed experts complained that Swiss authorities had refused to change contentious sections of the draft law, despite a 16-page letter they sent to the government at the end of May.
They called on the Swiss parliament to reject the law which “is bound to become a serious stain on Switzerland’s otherwise strong human rights legacy.”
It is unusual for UN experts to jointly express such blunt displeasure with the aim of influencing a parliamentary vote against the government in a reputed Western democracy.
By making this statement, the experts are touching a raw nerve in most countries. At the core is the vexed question of how to prevent terrorism without violating the human rights of critics of anti-terrorism methods and those suspected of aiding terrorists, including providers of humanitarian aid.
“None of our recommendations have been implemented”, they protested, “No satisfactory response has been given to our primary concerns about the incompatibility of the bill with human rights and international best practices in counter-terrorism.”
They think the draft’s broad definition of “terrorist activity” could encompass legitimate activities of journalists, civil society and political activists seeking to influence or change policy and regulations. The definition seems to no longer require the prospect of a crime.
“This excessively expansive definition sets a dangerous precedent and risks serving as a model for authoritarian governments seeking to suppress political dissent including through torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
According to international standards, including the UN Security Council, terrorism always involves the intimidation or coercion of populations or governments through the threat or perpetration of violence causing death, serious injury or the taking of hostages.
“Expanding the definition of terrorism to any non-violent campaign involving the spreading of fear goes far beyond current Swiss domestic law and violates international standards,” the experts said.
Astonishingly, the draft would give Swiss police extensive authority to designate “potential terrorists” and to decide on preventive measures against them without meaningful judicial oversight, according to these experts.
The array of experts making this extraordinary statement is impressive. They are Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression; and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
Special Rapporteurs are part the UN Human Rights Council’s independent fact-finding mechanisms to address specific human rights issues. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity without pay.
The Trump administration has left the Human Rights Council alleging systemic anti-Israeli bias. The Council starts meetings next week to consider a packed agenda of human rights violations in many countries around the world.
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