27 August 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Liechtenstein on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Martin Frick, Director of the Office for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, said that the Office of Equal Opportunities, established a decade ago, had been discontinued and would be replaced by a fully independent body for human rights, whose mandate would include elderly people, refugees and asylum, gender equality, children and youth, persons with disabilities, migration and integration as well as sexual orientation. Today, over one third of the resident population of Liechtenstein was made up of foreigners and the Government attached the highest importance to the integration of the foreign population and to combating any forms of racism and right-wing extremist violence.
During the discussion, Experts commended Liechtenstein for ensuring that the Convention could be directly invoked in the courts and asked about general anti-discrimination law in national legislation. The Committee asked about combating racial discrimination and controlling right-wing extremism. The integration of migrants was another question of interest, in particular immigration agreements or pacts and equal treatment of migrants from the European Union and Switzerland and other parts of the world. Experts asked about the possibility of instituting a universal human rights body in the country and requested the delegation to confirm the plans for the establishment of a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.
Speaking in initial concluding remarks, Nourredine Amir, Rapporteur for the report of Liechtenstein, welcomed the intention of Liechtenstein to create a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles and noted that the provisions of the Criminal Code on right-wing extremism did not quite allow the comprehensive combating of this phenomenon.
In concluding remarks Mr. Frick reiterated the importance attached by Liechtenstein to combating any form of racial hatred and discrimination.
The delegation of Liechtenstein included representatives of the Office for Foreign Affairs, the Public Prosecutor, the Immigration and Passport Office, the Office of Education and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Liechtenstein towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 August to hold a thematic discussion on racist hate speech.
The combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Liechtenstein can be read here: (CERD/C/LIE/4-6)
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation and the Committee that today’s meeting – as with all country reviews conducted in public by the Committee – was being webcast live over the Internet, and anyone in the world could watch it. Hopefully Finland was watching! The live webcast can be accessed via the following link: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org
Presentation of the Report
MARTIN FRICK, Director of the Office for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, said that for many years, the promotion and protection of human rights at the national and international levels had been one of the priorities of the Liechtenstein Government. Liechtenstein attached great importance to international and regional human rights treaties and their implementation. On the national level, Liechtenstein had made a number of significant efforts to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in general. About one decade ago, the Government decided to create the Office for Equal Opportunities. The creation of this office constituted a significant step forward in promoting equal opportunities for all people in Liechtenstein. The office had a concrete mandate regarding the promotion of equal opportunities with respect to gender, migration and integration, people with disabilities and sexual orientation. Recently, the Government decided to carry out several reforms in the field of the public administration. The national framework for the promotion and protection of human rights was also affected by the reform. One of the decisions taken by the Government was to discontinue the Office of Equal Opportunities and to establish a fully independent body for human rights which would have a broad mandate for the promotion and protection of human rights. The mandate of the new body included elderly people, refugees and asylum, gender equality, children and youth, persons with disabilities, migration and integration as well as sexual orientation. The new body would also be in charge of receiving and processing complaints from individuals.
Liechtenstein was a very small country with only 36,000 inhabitants. The country was highly industrialised and there had been a strong economic need for the immigration of foreigners for a long time period. As a result, today over one third of the resident population was made up of foreigners. The genuine integration of foreigners as well as the mutual understanding and the combat of any forms of racism were vital for a peaceful and cohesive society. The high importance which was attached by the Government to the integration of the foreign population was underlined by a number of measures taken in recent years. In 2008, the new Foreigners Law, based on the principle of “demanding and promoting”, was adopted by Parliament and applied to all foreigners coming from countries outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland. It was demanding because it stipulated that foreigners coming to Liechtenstein had to acquire a basic knowledge of the German language within a certain time period if they wanted to stay in Liechtenstein for a longer time period. For this purpose, they had to sign an integration agreement which defined the specific goals of their integration. Another central aspect of integration was the enhanced political participation of foreigners. Integration was not a one way street but a mutual process. Therefore the participation of foreigners in political processes was required to make their needs and interests heard. Although non-citizens did not have the right to vote in Liechtenstein, there were other possibilities for them to make themselves heard.
The integration of foreigners was only one part of the activities of the Government to prevent racial discrimination. Another important part constituted of activities for the prevention of right-wing extremist violence. Based on the results of the survey on “Right-Wing Extremist in Liechtenstein”, the Commission on the Prevention of Violence developed a measure catalogue to combat right-wing extremism. The realisation of integration measures, campaigns and preventive measures against right-wing extremism were indeed very important but not enough. It was equally essential to monitor the factual situation. In Liechtenstein, basically two direct instruments existed to monitor the development of right-wing extremist violence on the one hand and the development of integration on the other hand. In 2011, the first monitoring report on right-wing extremist violence was published for the year 2010. While there were reports of a number of incidents in 2010, the report for the year 2011 did not register any incidents of right-wing extremist violence. This was an indication of the effectiveness of the measures taken by the Commission on the Prevention of Violence. The integration of foreigners into the local society could be followed in the status report on the situation of human rights in Liechtenstein. As a general overview, the report showed that foreigners in Liechtenstein were in general well integrated in all sectors of public life. For instance, by the end of 2011, the rate of unemployment among foreigners was only 3.8 per cent, which was very low and only slightly higher than the rate of unemployment among Liechtenstein nationals. However, the report also showed that there was further potential to improve integration in other areas, such as in the school system. The report indicated that foreigners were underrepresented at schools of higher education such as grammar schools and universities. Recently, the Office of Education had started implementing a number of measures to improve the integration of foreigners in the school system and to increase the share of foreigners within schools of higher education.
Questions by the Experts
NOURREDINE AMIR, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Liechtenstein, said Liechtenstein was one of the richest countries in the world and one of those with the highest standards of living. Liechtenstein was a Parliamentary monarchy, there were 25 deputies in the Landtag or Parliament, and the Government had five ministers. The report referred to previous recommendations of the Committee, so it was a kind of follow-up and the Committee welcomed this. The report spoke about the co-existence between a native and foreign population. The Committee welcomed this, but wanted to clarify what was meant by native and foreign. The report talked of measures taken against right-wing extremism. What had become of these measures? Out of the foreigners in Liechtenstein, more than 50 per cent belonged to the European Union and Switzerland, and therefore only one fifth of the foreigners in Liechtenstein belonged to areas outside of the European Union and Switzerland. Liechtenstein had signed international treaties with Switzerland and the European Union with reciprocal regulations concerning the treatment of persons working and their families. It restricted the freedom of movement of other foreigners and their recognized international rights on the basis that no treaties had been signed with their countries. The Committee had recommended previously that Liechtenstein harmonize the reunification laws for those coming from the European Union and Switzerland and other foreigners. However, for other foreigners, Liechtenstein continued to apply the less flexible law of 2008 and yet it did not find this to be discriminatory. This was also noted in the Universal Periodic Review of the country. Was the Government considering the withdrawal of the reservation on the right to family life? What was the present situation?
Mr. Amir said that international conventions that Liechtenstein ratified became part of national laws and their provisions were directly applied. However, was it correct that there was no general anti-discrimination law in Liechtenstein? Article 1 of the Convention was explicit and the Convention had not been transposed into the laws of Liechtenstein. The report used the term “inter-cultural”, could the delegation define what was meant by “inter-cultural”? The Committee preferred the term “multicultural”. The report had spoken about flaws found in the data bases of Liechtenstein. Had the Government improved them? Why had Liechtenstein not set up a national human rights institute based on the Paris Principles? Concerning article 4 and racial hatred, there had been six complaints in 2010, six in 2009, three in 2008 and four in 2007. However, no judicial decisions concerning these complaints were handed down. Concerning the right to vote of non-citizens, the Committee noted that some bodies played an active role in this, but that should not replace the right to vote of non-citizens who had been living in Liechtenstein for a long number of years. Mr. Amir said he wished to congratulate Liechtenstein on the rigour with which they had prepared their report.
Another Expert lauded Liechtenstein for having a very high standard of living and ensuring that the Convention could be directly invoked in the courts as well as making individual complaints admissible. There was no specific law against racial discrimination in the country, as pointed out in the report. The report said that the law punished association with an organization promoting racial discrimination, but that did not meet the imperative of article four of the Convention which required States parties to make the circulation of racist propaganda a crime punishable by law. The Committee would make a recommendation on this. Also, even if there were a very small number of acts of racial discrimination, criminal legislation played a preventative role and an educational role. Although an Equal Opportunities Committee had been set up, no national human rights institute had been set up pursuant to the Paris Principles. The report mentioned setting up a Working Group to integrate Muslims. Could the delegation say more about this and the outcome of the work of this Working Group to integrate Muslims? Did the report include statistics disaggregated by racial group or ethnicity?
An Expert asked how long it took for asylum seeker procedures to be considered on average. Were asylum seekers able to find employment? The report noted that asylum seekers did not receive salaries until their asylum procedures were concluded and asked for more information about this. The report mentioned a dramatic increase in asylum applications in 2009, due to trafficking in migrants, notably people from Eritrea and Somalia, and that the Government had detected this and responded. Why was the rate of unemployment among the migrant population much higher among African descendent migrants and how did the State party interpret these statistics. More information was requested on the results of the inter-Ministerial study that looked into the activities of far-right groups.
An Expert commended Liechtenstein for its efforts to ensure that migrants could have access to all careers and for saying that there was strength through diversity. These were very positive measures. However, he wished to touch on a couple of areas of concern, which were also raised during the Universal Periodic Review. In Liechtenstein, migrants were held in preventive custody together with people who had criminal convictions and this was inappropriate. Had this situation changed?
An Expert noted that the integration of foreigners was on the agenda in the country, whereby immigrants signed an integration pact agreeing to learn the language and functioning of the state institutions. The Expert asked about the status of migrants during the first year of stay in the country and about the differences in treatment between migrants coming from the European Union and Switzerland and those coming from other countries. The delegation was asked whether there were any foreign members of radical groups and what was being done to counter discrimination against Muslim migrants and discrimination against women migrants.
Turning to the issue of the national human rights institution, the Committee asked about the possibility of instituting a universal human rights body in the country and requested the delegation to confirm the plans for the establishment of a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. Would this institution also have responsibility for the continuing follow up of the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action? An Expert further noted that Liechtenstein’s integration legislation was modeled on the European Union and asked for further clarification on the integration pact, when it was signed and what happened if an immigrant refused to sign it.
Liechtenstein was a very small country with only 36,000 people and yet it played an important role in studies and reporting on racial discrimination. A Committee Expert noted the landmark report prepared by the Foreign Ministry on attitudes of citizens towards immigrants in neighboring countries and in Liechtenstein and asked about people who were potentially violent and professed hatred for foreigners. Human rights education was crucial to achieve the aim of tolerant society and an Expert wondered why the national mechanism on anti-Semitism and racial hatred disbanded in 2007 had not become a permanent and standing one. The Expert further noted that the policy of diversity was important to limit right-wing extremism and wondered why right-wing radicals were against diversity.
Turning to the Criminal Code and the article dealing with racist associations, the Committee Expert asked whether the racist circle was in the scope of this article, and wondered whether there was an adequate legal basis in Liechtenstein to prevent violent outbursts by radical groups.
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, wondered about the border monument in Hinterschellenberg which marked the 1945 crossing into Liechtenstein of soldiers under the command of Major Holmston-Smyylowsky and the granting of asylum by the Principality. Mr. Avtonomov asked the delegation to provide further information about the fate of the petition of young people to the Parliament to prohibit the display of Nazi symbols.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to questions, the delegation said that there was no specific anti-discrimination law in Liechtenstein, but because of the legal system of the country, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had the same rank as the Constitution. Human rights were equally guaranteed to foreigners and bilateral agreements with the European Union guaranteed protection from discrimination.
Turning to integration matters, the delegation said that integration agreements concerned third country nationals who had not yet had permanent residence and contained provisions on learning the German language. Civic education was an important matter for Liechtenstein, which wished everyone residing in its territory to have basic knowledge about the customs, history and political system and structure of the country. The signing of the integration agreement was an opportunity to assist with personal issues of migrants who were given an opportunity to outline them to the authorities. Soon, Liechtenstein would institute so-called welcome talks to inform the migrants about the possibilities including the availability of vouchers for German language classes. The immigration agreements had been in place for four years now and the feedback from migrants was very positive and appreciative of taking into account and assisting with migrants’ personal issues.
Concerning the questions on the definition of intercultural competence used by Liechtenstein, it was noted that it was modelled after a German scientist and contained an exterior side focused on communication and awareness, and an inner side focused on awareness of oneself and the ability to see patterns that should not be there. On inter-cultural approach vs. multicultural approach, the delegation said that those concepts created misunderstandings and they now used the concept of “diversity”. The goal of the Government was for various Muslim organizations to get under an umbrella organization in order to facilitate communication with them. Two types of hardship cases were defined by the Code of Foreigners and included divorce because of domestic violence and common children; in those situations, permits would still be granted.
The study on the right-wing extremist scene in Liechtenstein had been initiated during previous discussions in this Committee. The research focused on the motivation of young people to join right-wing extremists and its results had been discussed with other countries. The study indicated that the phenomenon existed and that its members assumed to be accepted by the majority and saw themselves as spearheading a larger societal move. It seemed that young people associated with the right-wing extremists were not social underdogs and often felt their middle-class living threatened by immigration and integration. Based on the findings and recommendations from the study, the Government had adopted a series of measures to address and prevent right-wing extremism and had created a focal point to coach and assist persons affected by this extremism.
Due to the size of Liechtenstein, there was only one prison divided in two parts, one administered by the Ministry of Justice and the other by the Police. Illegal migrants were kept in the same building but apart from criminals and convicted persons. People were free to associate but the participation in association promoting racial discrimination was prohibited. Any group establishing concrete actions was an association in a sense of articles of the Criminal Code, and article 33 of the Criminal Code considered racism and xenophobia as aggravating circumstances.
On naturalization and citizenship laws, the delegation said that the Citizenship Law had been revised in 2008 and provided for two different procedures for naturalization, one providing the possibility to obtain citizenship through an ordinary procedure after having lived in Liechtenstein for over 10 years and another facilitating the procedure for foreigners who had lived a long time in Liechtenstein. In both instances, applicants must demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the German language and civic education and must agree to renounce their former citizenship. Hereditary Prince Alois on the occasion of the Liechtenstein National Day on 15 August 2012 had suggested that Liechtenstein should think about liberalizing to some extent the regime of immigration and naturalization. There was a public debate on the conditions of naturalization going on in the country.
On reservations to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other international instruments, the delegation said that those reservations were currently being reviewed by the relevant authorities and that this process was very complex and time consuming and that a final decision might take some time.
The Office of Education had undertaken a number of monitoring measures to identify any forms of hidden and structural discrimination. Democratic and human rights education had been integrated during the reform of the national curricula in 1999. The teaching profession was a regulated profession and the training of teachers took place abroad due to a lack of training institutions in the country. Teachers were recruited by the Office of Education, which might steer teaching process methods through continuing professional training opportunities offered to teachers.
The Asylum Division had 20 days to process asylum request if the proceedings were governed by the Dublin Regulations and six months if the Government was in charge, even though decisions were usually rendered earlier than that. The legal status of asylum seekers in need of protection was clearly defined by the new law. The new law had dropped the special procedures called embassy proceedings and asylum requests filed from third country were no longer accepted, with the exception of Switzerland. Data on foreigners was collected on the basis of origins and not ethnicity and data referred to four regions in the world. It was unwise to talk about Afro-descendants in Liechtenstein as having higher unemployment rates because those claims could not be supported with figures.
There were currently two specialised institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights. As required by the Paris Principles both had been established by the law adopted by the Parliament. A few weeks ago the Government had decided to establish a fully independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. The challenge would be how to combine the mandates of the new institution with the existing ones while still maintaining their specialisation. On the border monument, the delegation noted that so far it was not a symbol of the right-wing scene.
Questions by Experts
In a second round of questions and comments, Experts said that Turkish was the third language spoken in Liechtenstein, even though there were just over 600 speakers, which told something about numbers in the country and the law of small numbers. What was the statistical break up of those who had been accepted and those who had been rejected for naturalization by popular vote? How did the Government evaluate effectiveness of its programmes? The naturalization procedure was rather difficult in Liechtenstein which was ironic because Liechtenstein had played a prominent role in the development of international norms on nationality.
Response by the Delegation
Concerning discrimination by popular vote in obtaining nationality, the delegation said that there was a provision in the law that prohibited publishing statistics that would help in identifying persons.
Liechtenstein was in the process of revising its budgets and could not afford ineffective programmes. The evaluation of programmes should be obligatory but it was difficult to measure effectiveness of social programmes in a number of fields such as drug prevention, combating racism and others.
Questions from Experts
In a further series of questions and comments, a Committee Expert said that the announcement of the establishment of national human rights institutions, together with the definition of integration in the report, were very positive elements that needed to be noted. The study on right-wing extremism called for a series of questions and mirrored trends in many other European countries. Liechtenstein would need to struggle to enshrine and implement its beautiful definition of integration. The lack of a specific law on racial discrimination was a question of concern, regardless of the monist system of law prevailing in Liechtenstein; the law was still needed to set out sentences for this offence.
The next speaker said that religion had been taught in German for a number of years in schools and asked whether there were separate schools for Muslims or if both Muslim and Christian doctrines were taught to all the children. Was religious education compulsory? The delegation was also asked where the burden of proof was in cases of racial discrimination and about the independence and the mandate of the national human rights institution.
Response from the Delegation
The existing human rights institutions were fully in accordance with the Paris Principles. The national human rights institution should also meet those criteria of independence. The specific legislation for the establishment of this institution was being drafted. The State carried the burden of proof in cases of racial discrimination.
Religion was a compulsory subject under the heading of general religions and cultures and parents could choose if children would follow confessional religious education.
The delegation took note of the position of the Committee concerning the anti-discrimination law.
NOURREDINE AMIR, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Liechtenstein, in preliminary concluding remarks commended the delegation for answering the questions efficiently and expediently. The answers provided by the delegation made clear the reasons behind the lack of a specific anti-discrimination law and provided information about measures addressing integration, education and language education for foreigners. The Committee welcomed the intention of Liechtenstein to create a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. The provisions of the Criminal Code on right-wing extremism did not quite cater for the comprehensive combating of this phenomenon.
MARTIN FRICK, Director of the Office for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, said that Liechtenstein highly valued such an open and serious dialogue and reiterated the importance Liechtenstein attached to combating any form of racial hatred and discrimination.
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