Saturday, March 10, 2012

Switzerland: Expert warns that new law endangers Swiss freedom of expression

9 March 2012 – An independent United Nations human rights expert warned today that Switzerland’s proposed law authorizing heavy fines for protesters without official permission to demonstrate would have a “chilling” effect on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression in the country.

The new law targets demonstrations in the canton of Geneva, with fines of up to $110,000 for those without authorization to demonstrate, who fail to respect the authorization’s content or do not comply with police injunctions.

“Such an amount is disproportionate and would have a chilling effect on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai.

With mandates from the Human Rights Council, special rapporteurs are charged with examining, monitoring, advising and publicly reporting on human rights situations in specific countries or territories, or on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide.

“The State has the prime responsibility to protect peaceful assemblies, and the proposed change would deter many prospective organizers from exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” Mr. Kiai said.

The proposed law, which will be put to a canton-wide referendum on 11 March, also specifies that the beneficiary of an authorization to demonstrate may be denied a new authorization for up to five years if the protest in question led to any casualties or damages, even if he or she is not at fault.

In addition, it grants authorities permission to ban assemblies in specific locations, such as city centres, and imposes an obligation on protest organizers to provide their own security personnel without which the authorization to demonstrate will not be given.

“The exercise of fundamental freedoms should not be subject to a previous authorization by the authorities,” Mr. Kiai said, warning that the Geneva canton’s proposed restriction would “further dissuade” people from exercising their rights to express their views and opinions by means of peaceful assembly.

“Switzerland is leading important initiatives with respect to the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” he added. “The proposed changes to the law on demonstrations in the canton of Geneva are not in consonance with these positive efforts.”