Racial profiling: Police officers check passers-by who are not suspected of having committed a crime and based on their external characteristics.
Sven ZauggEditor Sunday view
Racism thrives where it is denied.” Doudou Diène’s quote applies particularly to Switzerland. After a visit to Geneva in 2006, the former United Nations special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia stated that the fact that racist ideas were spreading to democratic parties and that racism was being trivialized by politicians was particularly worrying.
Even 17 years later, the criticism has not diminished. On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council urged Switzerland to finally launch a national action plan against racial discrimination and establish a mechanism for collecting complaints against racial profiling by the police.
Data and studies are lacking
In fact, the complex topic hardly gets any attention: There is a lack of data, there are no studies, there are no laws – and there is a lack of understanding that racism is a social and institutional problem.
Denise Efionayi-Mäder, migration researcher from the University of Neuchâtel and co-author of a study on structural racism, finds the specialist literature on this subject sparse in Germany. “The public debate and research into racism is much more advanced in countries like Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands.”
Efionayi-Mäder sees parallels to another taboo subject. «No one can claim that Switzerland as a whole is sexist. But who could deny that sexism pervades Switzerland?»
living in inequality
For those affected, racism means a life of inequality. The South African Anele Dlamini*, who has been in Switzerland for eleven years, puts it this way: “No matter what I do, how well I speak German, how much I work, I will never become a full part of this society.” Racist comments are not uncommon in her workplace. You accept that, the boss looks the other way.
And just recently, when her brother was visiting from Cape Town, they were stopped by plainclothes police at the main train station, for no apparent reason, Dlamini says. “They put my brother in handcuffs, I got hysterical, held my ID under their noses, kept asking what we had done wrong.”
Days later, Dlamini contacted the police, described the incident, and demanded an explanation: she was told not to start a drama, there was no need for such controls, according to the policeman on the other end of the line.
That’s degrading, says Dlamini: “We’re not animals! We’re not guilty just because we’re black.”
There is a method to what happened to Dlamini and her brother, experts call it racial profiling. This is when people are checked by the police solely because of their appearance or ethnic characteristics. Because it is not individuals who act with a specific intention, but representatives of institutions such as the law enforcement agencies, these investigative tactics are assigned to structural racism.
At humanrights.ch, Gina Vega heads the Discrimination and Racism unit and the counseling network for victims of racism, which publishes an annual report on incidents related to racist discrimination in Switzerland. The current report is still in progress. But some statements are already certain: Last year, 630 cases of racist discrimination were reported to the advisory network. 55 more than last year. According to Vega, the number of unreported cases is many times higher.
Especially people with black skin are affected
60 reports concerned the police. Cases of degrading treatment, arbitrary identity checks and disproportionate criminal investigations were reported. People with black skin were particularly affected. Vega criticizes: “To this day, the police still do not recognize that racial profiling is part of their institution and wipes misconduct off the table as isolated cases. This means that the effects on those affected are not recognized and their situation is hardly taken seriously. »
A study commissioned by the Federal Commission against Racism (FCR) comes to the conclusion that people who experience institutional racism have little trust in the police and the judiciary. Because of this, few victims bring their complaints to court. And in none of these cases was a violation of the prohibition of discrimination found.
Switzerland does not have a comprehensive anti-discrimination law
Unlike the European Union, Switzerland does not have a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Experts like Tarek Naguib are therefore calling for reform. The lawyer and co-founder of the Alliance against Racial Profiling says: “If structural racism is mentioned in the context of an anti-discrimination law, police authorities, security politicians and the judiciary would have to seriously consider what changes in police law, in training and further education, in the service instructions , in personnel recruitment, in complaint management and especially in controlling.»
Not only the public, but also the private sector is affected by structural racism – especially areas of daily life such as work and living, but also sports and education. This is shown by the experience of 37-year-old Arjeta Gashi* from Solothurn. The mother of two with Kosovan roots was born here, went to school here, trained as a nurse here and has a Swiss passport.
Work life also affected
Nevertheless, her entry into professional life was difficult: “My school grades were very good, I spoke without an accent – and after school I received dozens of rejections on my applications.” Gashi had a suspicion. She reapplied for a position she had already been rejected for. But this time under a false name: Maja Hütter. She was promptly invited to an interview.
Discrimination in job applications is not uncommon. A study by the University of Neuchâtel found that people of foreign origin have to submit 30 percent more applications to be invited to an interview. Two groups appear to be particularly affected: applicants with Balkan and African surnames.
In the education sector in particular, reports to the counseling network for victims of racism are increasing. Gina Vega states: “The school is the place par excellence where racism and discrimination have to be fought.” It is important “that teachers are trained to recognize discrimination and racist bullying and receive the necessary tools to react to and deal with discriminatory situations”.
problematic teaching aids
The problem: educational institutions often lack a concept of how to deal with exclusion and racism. This starts with teaching materials, where racist stereotyping is still practiced to this day.
Simone Marti, lecturer at the Bern University of Education, points out in this context: “For decades there have been studies that show that children and young people are institutionally discriminated against in the Swiss school system because of their social background, their skin color, a supposed religious affiliation or migration history and not only be judged on their performance.”
According to the integration indicator of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), significantly more young people with a migration background leave school early or at most complete compulsory school. And: Foreign schoolgirls attend transitional training courses twice as often as their Swiss colleagues. One reason for this is systematic racism. After all, anti-discriminatory teaching is now part of the course at the primary level institute of the PH Bern. A start.
Are there any solutions?
But how do I solve the problem? Pedagogue Marti explains: Racism can only be changed and minimized by transforming existing power relations. “In the process, certain groups are also losing their dominance, they have to change habits and structures, create space, give up things that are taken for granted and work on their own attitudes.”
However, this does not happen casually, least of all when society and politics continue to regard racism as a marginal phenomenon.