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Switzerland: Solitary confinement of Brian K. violates Convention against Torture, UN expert says

GENEVA (14 June 2021) – Switzerland is violating the human rights of a young man who has been in and out of institutions for more than half his life and must immediately terminate his solitary confinement, a UN expert* said today.

“I am seriously concerned that the way Switzerland is treating Brian K. violates the Convention against Torture and cannot be reconciled with applicable human rights standards,” said Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Brian K., 25, previously known in the Swiss media as “Carlos” to protect his identity when he was underage, “has been arrested numerous times since he was 11, but has been deprived of the kind of treatment his medical condition warrants”, the expert said.

The martial artist has been held in almost complete isolation in Pöschwies prison since August 2018, without family visits or any interaction with other prisoners and with very limited exercise, during which he remains handcuffed and chained.

“Such a long period of solitary confinement – almost three years – goes far beyond the maximum of 15 days permitted by the Nelson Mandela Rules,” Melzer said, referring to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Brian K. is serving a sentence of 4 years and 9 months for attempted grievous bodily harm to prison staff, a charge he denies, and which may be based on official bias and prejudice rather than carefully established facts, the expert said. From the age of 13, Brian K. was repeatedly arrested for assault and was held in prolonged solitary confinement for periods of six months or more, aggravated by disproportionately harsh conditions of detention.

Brian K. suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is characterized by excessive impulsivity and an elevated need for physical activity, and which has been exacerbated by his treatment in the Swiss judicial system.

“As a juvenile offender with a diagnosed hyperactivity disorder, Mr. K. was deeply traumatized by the excessively repressive response of the authorities and demonization by the media,” Melzer said. “At one point, after two suicide attempts when he was 16, he was medicated and tied to a bed in a psychiatric institution for 13 days, not allowed to move, shower or even go to the toilet,” he said.

“The traumatizing periods of prolonged solitary confinement and excessive use of restraints and medication have taken a huge toll on his physical and mental health,” he said.

Melzer called for an independent investigation into the way Brian K. was treated in custody, particularly why he was placed under the supervision of the very prison guards he had previously accused of assault. Melzer also called for his solitary confinement to be terminated immediately, and said Brian K. must be compensated for his years of suffering, rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

“It is shocking to see that indefinite solitary confinement is being used as a disciplinary measure against Mr. K. for alleged behavioural problems, most of which seems to have been exacerbated, or even caused, by his misguided treatment and conditions of detention,” he said. “It is time for the authorities to take responsibility and break this vicious cycle.”

He also endorsed a 2017 recommendation by The Human Rights Committee that Switzerland should revise Article 59 of its Criminal Code to bring it in line with the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
That problematic provision allows Swiss courts to isolate people in a closed psychiatric institution for up to five years and to renew this measure indefinitely, irrespective of their initial criminal sentence.

The expert has been in direct contact with the Swiss Government on this case and has urged authorities to live up to Switzerland’s commitments to the absolute and universal prohibition on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in full compliance with international and regional human rights obligations and standards, as well as its own federal action plan against torture.


The Expert: Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishmentby the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Melzer is the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; a Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow; and previously served as Legal Advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Senior Security Policy Adviser to the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Prof. Melzer has authored award-winning and widely translated books in international human rights law and humanitarian law.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org).

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