Switzerland: Anti-torture report warns against life imprisonment and Geneva drug task force police brutality

An expert anti-torture report on Switzerland expresses “serious reservations” about the continued use of life imprisonment.

The report from the Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), published today, also raises allegations of police brutality linked to the Geneva canton drug task force.

The response of the Swiss authorities is also made available.

The report, which follows the CPT 12-day April 2015 visit to Switzerland, notes the committee’s “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 suspects 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. 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.

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.

According to the report, 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.”

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