Just a year after banning the construction of minarets, Swiss voters have approved a right-wing initiative demanding the automatic expulsion of criminal foreigners. The initiative violates international law.
The Swiss People's Party (SVP) triumphs: "Swiss vote for SVP!" Indeed, once again the right-wing populist party has scored a remarkable win in a national vote, after 53 percent of Swiss voters expressed their support Sunday for the party's deportation initiative.
Majorities in Switzerland's French speaking cantons opposed the initiative, while the Swiss-Germans mostly agreed. There, only in one canton (Basel- City) the initiative failed, while in all others there were majorities reaching as many as 66 percent of the vote.
Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International (AI) are "shocked" by the result. In a statement, AI speaks of a "black day for human rights in Switzerland." AI says the SVP's success is based on a xenophobic campaign.
The deportation initiative aims at establishing a mechanism enabling automatic expulsion of criminal foreigners. During its three-year campaign, the SVP has claimed that Swiss authorities are downplaying criminality among its 1.8 million foreign inhabitants. Using widely criticised black-sheep- placards, the party vowed to "establish security."
The Swiss Law on Foreigners had been totally reformed only a few years ago. In effect since early 2008, it allows Swiss authorities to revoke residence permits of foreigners convicted to long-term prison sentences. According to the Swiss Federal Court, sentences of more than one year qualify for deportation.
Marc Spescha, lawyer and expert on migration law says "there's absolutely no need for legislative action and aggravation of the current practice." According to the Federal Office for Migration (FOM), Switzerland expels 350 to 400 foreign criminals yearly. After the implementation of the deportation initiative, the FOM expects the number to rise to 1,500 expulsions a year.
Recently elected Swiss Justice Minster Simonetta Sommaruga is now charged with implementing the deportation initiative. However, her task is far from easy. "From a constitutional point of view, the initiative is not workable without violating international law and treaties," says Spescha.
The SVP has published a catalogue of crimes for which convicts will face automatic deportation. The list includes serious crimes such as murder or rape, but also vaguely defined offences such as betraying the social security system. "In accordance with the rule of law, however, cases have to be examined individually and interests have to be balanced in respect of the principle of proportionality," says Spescha.
In international law, the non-refoulement principle guarantees that no person can be deported to countries where they could face persecution. Further, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are violated.
The initiative also puts in question the Swiss-EU Bilateral Agreement on Freedom of Movement of Persons. Swiss Justice Minister Sommaruga said she'll make sure the implementation of the initiative will be compatible with international law. No one knows how she'll do that while respecting the initiative's content.
Opponents of the deportation initiative were split. The government and a parliamentary majority made up mainly of liberal parties unsuccessfully pushed for a counter-proposal to the initiative. The refugee rights organisation Solidarité sans frontières (Sosf) opposed both the counter- proposal and the initiative, as did the Green Party and parts of the Social Democracts.
Sosf's Secretary General Moreno Casasola said the counter-proposal supported a multi-class society, where foreigners are treated differently by the law than are Swiss nationals. "Even though in comparison to the SVP initiative it's progress in terms of juristic application, at its core it remains xenophobic."
The Swiss Refugee Council (SFH) meanwhile supported the counter-proposal. Secretary-General Beat Meiner said: "After the approval of the anti-minarets initiative a year ago, anybody should have realised that the deportation could get about 60 percent of the votes if there was not counter-proposal confronting it. Thinking that the initiative could be beaten without the option of a counter-proposal is unworldly and pure reverie."
Sosf's Casasola rejects these allegations and blames the proponents of the counter-proposal for the SVP's success. "The deportation initiative wouldn't have been successful if there was straightforward, steadfast opposition. The tactic of using the counter-proposal has clearly failed."
The Swiss People's Party currently holds 55 of 200 seats in Switzerland's National Council. Its recent success is largely based on xenophobic campaigns. Damir Skenderovic, professor of contemporary history at the University of Fribourg says that the SVP has been pushing its anti-migration agenda with vast resources for the last 20 years.
"The SVP's campaign was absolutely dominant and pushed by the party's massive financial resources," he said. "Opposition was hardly visible." In Switzerland, party and campaign financing isn't regulated. Skenderovic says that a debate on establishing transparency is now necessary.
This report was first published here by IPS Inter Press Service.