Swiss on UN collision course after Geneva vote

Residents of Swiss city Geneva voted to tighten restrictions on demonstrations and authorised stiff fines for violators in a referendum on Sunday, setting up a human rights clash with the UN.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, the Red Cross and scores more international organisations are based in Geneva, where protesters frequently rally, especially when the UN council is in session.

But almost 55 percent of voters in the country’s second-largest city approved a law letting authorities fine demonstrators up to 100,000 Swiss francs ($110,000) if they rally without prior permission or do not abide by agreed conditions.

The vote came in regional elections that also saw the work-oriented Swiss reject longer vacations but agree to a special parking facility with walls between spaces for prostitutes and their clients to ensure privacy, and get them off a suburban street.

Proponents say the street-protest measure will prevent unruly gatherings, such as when demonstrators smashed shop windows and set cars alight during the 2009 anti-World Trade Organisation actions.

But the law has riled a key UN human rights expert, who said such amendments “unduly restrict” the rights to free expression.

“The exercise of fundamental freedoms should not be subject to a previous authorisation by the authorities,” said Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Though Kiai credited Switzerland overall for steps it had taken to protect free speech, he said “the proposed changes to the law on demonstrations in the canton of Geneva are not in consonance with these positive efforts”.

The new law also allows authorities to change demonstration itineraries if they pose “disproportionate risks to people” and their property, a move that would give officials the power to ban gatherings in the city centre.

The vote came as part of a set of local ballot initiatives across Switzerland, where anyone can put a question to a referendum if he or she is able to gather 100,000 eligible voter signatures within 18 months.

In Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, voters approved the construction of what was locally called sex boxes where prostitutes can ply their trade. The proposal was aimed at moving streetwalkers away from residential zones and away from the city centre.

Meanwhile on a federal level, the Swiss, known for their strong work ethic, rejected a union-led proposal to extend paid leave from four to six weeks.

The government and businesses warned that the proposal would make labour costs too high.

In another federal vote, the Swiss decided to limit the construction of second homes in communes to 20 percent. The issue is particularly pertinent for ski resorts, many of which have seen a building boom.

Proponents said such building frenzies disfigure the landscape and lead to unaffordable homes for locals.

“The Swiss people have shown they want to safeguard Switzerland’s beauty,” said Vera Weber, vice president of an environmental group.

Voters also agreed to allocate all lottery and gambling revenues to public use such as in cultural, social or sports activities.

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IN PICTURES: Thousands take to Berlin streets in peaceful social justice, climate protest

Thousands of people marched in Berlin on Saturday for human rights, solidarity and social justice and against climate change in response to a call from the 'Unteilbar' (Indivisible) movement.

IN PICTURES: Thousands take to Berlin streets in peaceful social justice, climate protest
Participants hold a banner reading "Stop the climate catastrophe" during a demonstration organised by the "#unteilbar" (indivisible) movement on September 4th, 2021 in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)

An alliance of more than 340 organisations and initiatives, including the German Children’s Fund, Amnesty International, Fridays for Future, the German Trade Union Federation and the Berlin tenants’ association, called for the demonstration, according to German newspaper Tagesspiegel.

At the end of the demonstration, police estimated that the number of participants was in the “upper four-digit range”, adding that people mostly observed hygiene rules and wore masks. Some 30,000 people had registered to attend.

The unteilbar movement’s motto is “For a just society based on solidarity”. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)
Organisers of the march decryed the growing divisions in European society that they say are being fuelled by policies that accentuate the gap between rich and poor, which prioritise security over human rights and promote nationalism over inclusion.
The alliance called for “different political priorities” and a redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom in a tweet, explaining that current policies strengthened inequality in many areas. 
The below picture shows a banner from ‘Wer Hat Der Gibt’, an alliance that says the rich should pay for the crisis.

Participants of the march hold banners printed with ‘No place for racism!’ and “People are not the same, but their rights are’. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)

“We want different political priorities and don’t let ourselves be played off against one other,” said Unteilbar activist Anna Spangenberg, Tagespiegel reported. Those who have political responsibility must “finally tackle the climate crisis consistently and in a socially fair manner” and fight racism and misanthropy, she said.

The country needed a democracy “which guarantees real participation for everyone and which everyone can help shape”, she added.

Participants hold a sign reading ‘No Place For Nazis’ during a demonstration organised by the “#unteilbar” (indivisible) movement. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)

A sign reads ‘Racism is not normal’, a reference to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party slogan ‘Germany, but normal’ at Saturday’s demonstration. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)

“I’m here today because I’ve been fighting for more hospital staff and fair wages for years,” said protester Dana, Tagesspiegel reported. “And I know that this is only possible together and in solidarity.” Another participant, Florian, said he wanted to “make a statement against right-wing parties” and “for human rights” before the general election.

The general election takes place in less than three weeks time and will see Chancellor Angela Merkel step down after 16 years in power.

READ ALSO: Who will replace Angela Merkel as chancellor?

Police officers working at the demonstration said hygiene measures were mostly observed and participants wore masks. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)

A participant holds a flag reading ‘love music- hate fascism’. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)

Participants at the “#unteilbar” (indivisible) demonstration hold banners, one reading ‘Solidarity is #non-negotiable’. (Photo by Adam BERRY / AFP)