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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Poland an Switzerland with NGOs

Committee on the Elimination   
  of Racial Discrimination  

10 February 2014

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an interactive dialogue with non-governmental organizations from Poland and Switzerland.  The report of Poland will be reviewed by the Committee this afternoon and tomorrow morning, and the report of Switzerland will be reviewed on 14 and 17 February. 
A representative of a non-governmental organization from Poland said that the Equality Act, adopted in 2010, was not functioning well.  In addition, Government programs implemented over the past years had not led to a tangible improvement of the situation of Roma in Poland.  At the same time, the country had experienced a systematic increase of hate crimes over the previous years.  Experts asked, inter alia, about the phenomenon of "anti-Semitism without Jews", racism in sports, the neutrality of the Ombudsman's office and its cooperation with the civil sector, and the education of Roma children.
Representatives of the Swiss non-governmental sector pointed out at issues which migrants were facing when it came to being granted proper permits, their mobility and employability, and particularly spoke about the situation of migrant women, who were sometimes exposed to marital violence.  The popular initiative against mass immigration, which had been approved yesterday, 9 February, was given significant consideration by both the civil sector and the Experts.  The Experts also inquired about racial profiling and activities of the civil sector to raise awareness on human rights issues among the population at large. 
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights took part in the discussion this morning concerning the report of Poland and, on Switzerland's report, an alliance of non-governmental organizations called the "NGO Platform Human Rights" and the Working Group on Migrant Women and Marital Violence.
The next meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today, when the Committee will begin consideration of the periodic report of Poland (CERD/C/POL/20-21). 
Statement on Poland
MALGORZATA SZULEKA, from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, emphasized recent legal developments, in particular the adoption of the Equality Act in December 2010.  That act had provided the most extensive protection to race, national and ethnic origins.  Nonetheless, the law limited the claims for violation of the rule of equal treatment only to compensation, and over the past three years, only 30 complaints had been received on the basis of the Act.  The Law did not function very well with respect to the general population, and it was hard to expect that its application in cases of foreigners would be more effective.
Regarding the new Act on Foreigners, it had failed to include the long-advocated prohibition of detaining minor foreigners in guarded centres.  The Act would need to be amended soon, as the new provisions on combatting violence against women would have to be incorporated.
On the situation of Roma in Poland, there was a huge discrepancy between the official data and the data collected by non-governmental organizations.  There was no statistical data on Roma migrants or Roma children attending obligatory education.  The Government programs implemented over the past years had not led to a tangible improvement of the situation of Roma in Poland.  Compared to the population at large, Roma were still largely uneducated, and the emphasis had to be on the complete implementation of the program of integration of Roma in Poland for the period until 2020. 
The occurrence of hate crimes in Poland had grown systematically, from 48 noted cases to 272 in 2012.  At the same time, the rate of detection of perpetrators in such cases was still very low.  The existing databases did not correlate with each other.  Progress in combatting hate crimes had not been sufficient, and conducted investigations had not been efficient enough.  Many cases had been dismissed as perpetrators could not be determined.  One disturbing tendency observed in the recent period was to discontinue an investigation of hate crimes if victims of the crime did not belong to one of the minorities against which the crime had been directed.  The victims were convinced that the justice system was not efficient enough in addressing cases of crime based on discrimination, and law enforcement officers had low awareness of issues related to racism and xenophobia.
Questions by Experts
DILIP LAHIRI, Country Rapporteur for Poland, noted that the level of hate crimes seemed surprisingly high for a country with an extremely homogenous society.  In particular, how could the NGO explain that anti-Semitism was still so present in a country with so few Jews? 
Another Expert asked if there were Roma coming to Poland from other countries, and which countries they were.  Were there any state programs in place to provide support for the integration and employment of Roma?  Were the Roma in Poland mostly settled or still traveling?
An Expert noted that the civil sector seemed to be concerned with the implementation of the Equality Act.  She asked for further information on the alleged under-reporting of cases.  Could the NGO comment on the intersection between racial discrimination and oppression of women from minority ethnic groups?
Response from NGO
Ms.  Szuleka explained that part of the Roma community were migrants from Romania and Bulgaria.  The Roma were mostly concentrated in southern and eastern edges of Poland.  Access to health services and social benefits of those communities were limited.  While the 2004-2013 Programme for the Roma Community in Poland had come to an end, a new programme had not been put in place yet.
The scope of obligations of the Ombudsman had been expanded, but no additional financial resources had been provided.  There had been only a very limited number of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman with regard to racial discrimination over the previous years.
The phenomenon of "anti-Semitism without Jews" was hard to explain.  More emphasis had to be placed on education and raising awareness, in particular of the youth.  Anti-Semitism seemed to be deeply rooted in Polish society, and was mainly visible in parts where a Jewish community had lived before the Second World War. 
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert inquired what the State party could do differently in order to identify the perpetrators of hate crimes more effectively.  Had crimes reported simply not been hate crimes, or was the legislation too restrictive in defining what hate crimes were?
Could sports teams be sanctioned to address racial incidents caused by their fans?
Was the office of the Ombudsman working in cooperation with non-governmental organizations? 
Was it the opinion of the non-governmental representative that the report realistically reflected the situation in Poland?
An Expert asked about the dropout rates among Roma children and what could be done to address that issue. 
Response from Non-Governmental Organizations
Ms.  Szuleka said that there was a low level of training for prosecutors dealing with hate crimes.  They had just commenced such trainings, and it was too early to draw conclusions on the training's effectiveness. 
There was a rampant problem of racism in sports, which was recognized by the Government.  It did not necessarily refer to matches opposing Polish to foreign teams, but most frequently to matches between Polish teams.
Cooperation between the Ombudsman and the civil sector was very active and productive.  The office of the Ombudsman was deemed to be neutral in its activities.  Among the Roma living in Poland, there were both those still traveling and those who have settled.  Housing needs of both communities had to be properly addressed. 
Dropout rates among the Roma children were high, partly because schools and teachers were not ready to fully address the particular needs of that group.  There was a significant difference between the language used by Roma and Polish children, and efforts should be made to teach Roma children in a language which they understood. 
Statements on Switzerland
RUEDI TOBLER, from the NGO Platform Human Rights, a group of more than 80 Swiss non-governmental organizations, said Switzerland had ratified the Convention following a popular vote.  He was not sure whether the Convention would have been approved if its ratification had been tied to the vote which took place on Sunday, with Swiss voters approving a proposal to restrict immigration.  The xenophobic tide in Switzerland seemed to be rising.  Prohibitions on wearing of the veil in schools in some parts of the country are yet another sign of that trend. 
Another speaker added that foreigners fleeing violence in their country were admitted to Switzerland on a provisional basis and were not given refugee status, which was heavily discriminatory.  One had to become financially independent, know the language well and have many social links in order to receive a long-term residence permit.  Without access to the "C" permit, one could not be eligible for naturalization in the future.  Integration services had shown certain improvement over the past years.
All asylum seekers were excluded from access to social aid.  In some federal "waiting" centres, which were often in disused military sites, asylum seekers had limited freedom of movement, and only during the day.  Often times, those centres were rather isolated from inhabited areas, which explained why asylum seekers were excluded from the rest of the society.  Conditions for having a decent family life were rather limited.  Thankfully, some outside groups were helping out asylum seekers.
Regarding racial profiling, there had been an improvement when it came to basic training of police officers.  Problems nonetheless remained, and regular complaints had been heard on that matter.
TAREK NAGUIB, also from the NGO Platform Human Rights, stated that the naturalization process in Switzerland was complex.  It was often described as having a discriminatory nature, with popular assemblies deciding whether somebody would be given a passport or not, particularly in the canton of St. Gallen.  It was primarily people of Turkish or former Yugoslav origin who were discriminated against.  There had been cases where veiled Muslim women had been discriminated against when applying for citizenship. 
Switzerland had not made significant progress when it came to anti-discriminatory laws, but it had at least started to examine whether the current legislation was effective in combatting discrimination.  Cantons seemed not to be ready to invest substantial resources in addressing discrimination.  Education efforts had to be reinforced.
There had been no progress in addressing the needs of the Traveller community, partly because of a racist discourse against foreign Travellers and land laws.  Foreign Roma were stigmatized in the public discourse as criminals, the most frequent accusations being human trafficking and theft.  As a result, they were often expelled.
CHLOE MAIRE, from the Working Group on Migrant Women and Marital Violence, stated that the current challenge was to define the intensity of violence, because even specialist evidence presented by doctors or lawyers was not recognized in courts.  In addition, it had to be demonstrated that harassment was taking place over a long period of time.  Being unable to provide the required evidence, victims of domestic violence often had to return to those who had abused them.  Foreigners who were subject to marital violence were thus treated differently from Swiss citizens who were exposed to domestic violence.  A more victim-based approach ought to be adopted, with a view to providing help rather than punishing or expelling victims of marital violence. 
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked for more details and information regarding the issue of racial profiling in Switzerland. 
She asked for statistics on the intersectional nature of discrimination against women from minority backgrounds.
An Expert asked for the ramifications of the referendum vote on Sunday to limit mass immigration for European Union countries.  What would the practical repercussions be?
An Expert expressed some understanding for the vote of the Swiss people in yesterday's voting.  He inquired if anything could be done to persuade the people of Switzerland to be more welcoming to foreigners.
Response by Non-Governmental Organizations
A representative of the civil sector said that the problem of the Swiss non-discrimination law was that there had been no substantive progress in its implementation or effectiveness over the previous years.  Its focus was on access to justice and did not reach beyond that.  At the moment, there was a lack of justice when it came to discrimination on racial grounds in the field of labour or housing.  Effectiveness was also lacking, and the burden of proof was a hurdle. 
Racial profiling was forbidden by the Constitution, but there was very limited conscience and understanding about it among the police forces.  No police force, except for Lausanne and Neuchatel, had addressed the issue properly and in-depth.  In other places, it was still very much a piecemeal approach.  The issue of impunity was also problematic, as testimonies of police officers still carried much more weight than those of asylum seekers or refugees in a court of law.
The right to change the canton of residence was extremely difficult for refugees, especially for people with "F" permits.  Most of them came from Sudan, Syria and Eritrea.  Women migrants were often in particularly underprivileged situations, especially when exposed to domestic violence.
Follow-up questions by Experts
An Expert inquired whether the results of a popular voting in Switzerland were in any way limited by international law, especially if they contradicted mandatory international law; and would the Convention be considered as mandatory international law?
Clarification was asked on "F" permits, and who were recipients of those.  Were such persons not refugees and given refugee status?  Was Switzerland applying the non-refoulement approach?
What was the civil sector doing to raise public awareness, and awareness among political parties on the issue of upholding human rights? Perhaps it was time to remind the people of Switzerland what it meant to be discriminated against and how it should be dealt with.
Another Expert asked for details on dealing with cases of people admitted to Switzerland on a provisional basis.
Response by Non-Governmental Organizations
A representative of the civil sector explained that students were allowed to move to another canton to study.  He also explained that previously, refugees were eligible for a "C" permit after five years, which was comparable to the United States Green Card and was the best status for foreigners in Switzerland.  Today, that right was applicable ten years after entry into Switzerland.  "F" permits were issued to people in precarious situations, with admission on a provisional basis, and they were discriminatory against family reunifications.
There was a lack of places where Travellers could legally live and enjoy their right to housing.  Laws on construction and zoning had to be changed, which in turn had to go through popular voting.  New ways had to be found to speak to people, such as putting people responsible for asylum policies in the shoes of real asylum seekers.  It was extremely difficult to find effective ways to address certain groups of the population.  Xenophobic campaigns and initiatives often received significant amounts of funding, which was why they were difficult to counter. 
Switzerland had a threefold system for regulating the status of foreigners: a refugee law; legislation on freedom of movement of persons with the European Union – which had been rejected in yesterday's popular voting -, and a procedure for foreigners from third countries.  The initiative approved yesterday had now already become a constitutional text; Switzerland had three years to reach a new arrangement with the European Union on freedom of movement.


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