Anti-torture Committee calls for prison reforms and an end to police drug squad brutality


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A report on a visit to Switzerland in April 2015 by the Council's of Europe's anti-torture Committee calls for the country to question the use of life imprisonment, to improve conditions in a number of prisons - particularly for remand prisoners in Champ-Dollon prison, who spend "23 hours a day in their cell" - and for an "in-depth and independent investigation" into the work of the Geneva canton drugs task force. The Committee found that the task force has been accused of violence including "punches, kicks and even truncheon blows, sometimes to blindfolded persons."


Report (French only): Rapport au Conseil fédéral suisse relatif à la visite effectuée en Suisse par le Comité européen pour la prévention de la torture et des peines ou traitements inhumains ou dégradants (CPT) du 13 au 24 avril 2015 (pdf) and: Government response (French only, pdf)

Council of Europe news story: Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on Switzerland (link): "Strasbourg, 23.06.2016 – The Council of Europe's European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its April 2015 visit to Switzerland, together with the response of the Swiss authorities. During this 12-day visit, a delegation visited prisons, police stations and psychiatric institutions in seven different cantons.

One of the aims of the visit was to examine the situation of persons detained in Swiss penitentiary establishments. Champ-Dollon (Geneva), "La Promenade" (la Chaux-de-Fonds), "La Farera" and "La Stampa" (Lugano) and Schwyz Prisons were inspected in this context.

Detention conditions were very good on the whole, with the exception of Champ-Dollon Prison which still suffers from a serious overcrowding problem and had an occupancy rate of around 190% at the time of the visit. The Geneva authorities are called upon to take the necessary steps to definitively remedy this problem, in particular by developing alternatives to imprisonment. Improvements were also recommended at "La Promenade" penitentiary establishment where the medical service was housed, at the time of the visit, in cramped prefabricated structures.

At Champ-Dollon Prison, allegations were made of ill-treatment by guards and violence between inmates in cells. In other prisons, relations between prisoners and guards seemed appropriate, and violence did not appear to be a major problem.

Most of the remand prisoners awaiting sentencing had a poor detention regime and generally spent 23 hours a day in their cell. They were also cut off from contact with the outside world (no phone calls or visits), often for several weeks or even months at a time. In the Committee's view, it is not acceptable to leave prisoners without activities or cut off from the outside world for lengthy periods. Measures should be taken, including through legislation, to remedy this situation.

The report also addressed the situation of persons subjected to a criminal court measure entailing therapeutic treatment in an institution or hospitalisation. The forensic psychiatric clinic in Basel, as well as Hindelbank and Lenzburg Prisons, were visited in this context. The CPT observed that efforts had been made to increase accommodation capacities for prisoners suffering from serious mental health problems in specialised establishments or units. Nevertheless, it remains concerned that a number of such individuals are incarcerated under an ordinary prison regime in an environment that is not suited to their specific needs. Their conditions of detention in high-security sections gave particular cause for concern, and were almost tantamount to solitary confinement. The competent authorities should take the necessary measures in this respect.

Where "life imprisonment" is concerned, the Committee reiterates once again its serious reservations as to the very concept of imprisonment which deprives those concerned of any hope of release and considering them to represent a permanent threat to society for the rest of their lives.

The delegation visited 11 police establishments around the country and found satisfactory detention conditions overall. However, due to the small size of some of the cells in the Geneva police headquarters and Pâquis police station (Geneva), they should be used only for short periods.

While the vast majority of persons detained by the police stated that they had been correctly treated, the CPT is extremely concerned by the phenomenon of police brutality which, it seems, still exists in Geneva canton, particularly by the members of the drugs task force. This violence is said to include punches, kicks and even truncheon blows, sometimes to blindfolded persons. Among other things, the report recommends an in-depth and independent investigation into the methods used by this task force. Measures should also be taken to substantially improve fundamental safeguards and in particular to allow persons deprived of their liberty by the police to have access to a lawyer and inform a close relative of their situation from the beginning of their detention.

The report also analyses care provided to patients involuntarily hospitalised in the university psychiatric clinics in Basle.

In their response, the Swiss authorities provided detailed information on the measures taken to implement the Committee’s recommendations."

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