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  • Human Rights Council adopts resolution on peaceful protests

    Reaction to resolution on peaceful protests at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    With the adoption of a new resolution on peaceful protests, the Human Rights Council has sent a strong message that it stands by peaceful protesters who mobilise for change, and that law enforcement officials who perpetrate violence against protesters must be held to account.

    All over the world, protesters have been mobilizing and standing up to win better working conditions, further equality, and end forms of oppression. But in too many cases, from Chile to Hong Kong to the US, protesters, protest monitors and journalists have been met with repression and police brutality, often with complete impunity. We urge states to ensure full accountability for human rights violations perpetrated by law enforcement in the context of peaceful protests. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the urgency of the protection of online assembly. Given this context, CIVICUS welcomes that the resolution strongly reaffirms that the rights of peaceful assembl guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. We thank Switzerland and Costa Rica in bringing forward this resolution, which could not come at a more critical time for the protection of peaceful protests worldwide.

    The resolution mandates the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to prepare over the next two years a dedicated report on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations. It also provides for a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, looking at achievements and contemporary challenges, at the Council Session next June.

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor



  • SWITZERLAND: ‘It was about time for everybody to have the same rights, with no discrimination’

    RetoWyssCIVICUS speaks with Reto Wyss,International Affairs Officer of Pink Cross, about the recentreferendum on same-sex marriage in Switzerland and the challenges ahead.

    Pink Cross is Switzerland’s national umbrella organisation of gay and bisexual men, and for 28 years it has advocated for their rights in the country’s four language regions. It stands against discrimination, prejudice and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status, and strives for acceptance and equal rights for all queer people on both a national and international level. It conducts its work through an active media presence, advocacy, campaigning and efforts to strengthen the LGBTQI+ community.

    What was the process leading to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Switzerland, and what roles did Pink Cross play?

    The same-sex marriage bill was submitted to parliament in 2013 and it went back and forth several times between the two legislative chambers until it was finally passed in December 2020. Pink Cross did intensive and quite traditional advocacy, lobbying and public campaigning all along the process.

    We talked a lot with politicians of the conservative-liberal Free Democratic Party of Switzerland as well as the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland. We ordered a legal opinion that clearly stated that, contrary to what opponents of the law said, there was no need to change the Swiss Constitution to open marriage to all people. If that had been the case, the legalisation of same-sex marriage would have required a positive popular vote in the majority of the Swiss cantons, which would have made things a lot more complicated.

    To enshrine same-sex marriage, all that was needed was a law like the one parliament had passed, amending the Civil Code to extend marriage to all couples beyond those of a man and a woman.

    No referendum was necessary: the one held on 26 September was an optional referendum launched by opponents of the law, who intended to show that parliament’s decision was not welcome by the Swiss people and overturn it. To have this referendum called, they campaigned actively to gather the 50,000 signatures required. LGBTQI+ organisations would have been largely pleased with letting the decision made by parliament stand, rather than asking everybody whether they agreed with granting us the same rights as everyone else.

    The civil society campaign was officially launched on 27 June, with events in 23 towns and villages across Switzerland. Over the following 100 days, the queer community mobilised around the country with dozens of actions to demand the right to equality. The campaign was supported by several LGBTQI+ organisations, including Pink Cross, the Swiss Organisation of Lesbians-LOS, Network-Gay Leadership, WyberNet-Gay Professional Women, Rainbow Families and Fédération Romande des Associations LGBTIQ+.

    We wanted to gain as much visibility as possible, so we campaigned with thousands of rainbow flags hanging out of balconies throughout the country and posted many great videos online. This was a very broad grassroots campaign with many activists taking part in it, both online and in person. Our main message was that the same rights must be recognised for everybody, with no discrimination, and that in Switzerland it was about time.

    Who campaigned for and against same-sex marriage in the run-up to the vote? How did groups opposed to same-sex marriage mobilise?

    Leftist and liberal parties and organisations campaigned in favour of the law, while the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party – although not all of its elected representatives – campaigned against it, along with a whole bunch of conservative and clerical organisations, including the rather small Evangelical People’s Party. The Catholic Church was against the law, although not all of its representatives or institutions had the same position. The Protestant Church backed the law, although not unanimously.

    Mobilisation against the law took place mainly in the countryside and – obviously – online. Their arguments were mostly about the alleged well-being of children, and focused on the fact that the law allowed same-sex married couples access to adoption and conception through sperm donation.

    What will be the immediate effects of the new law?

    On 26 September, by 64 per cent of the vote, the Swiss people expressed their agreement with the law granting equal marriage for all. The law will come into force on 1 July 2022 and will have very important and immediate practical effects, because the legal status of marriage has several important differences from the registered partnership (RP) regime already available to same-sex couples.

    The recognition of marriage to all couples will eliminate the inequalities in legal treatment that still exist regarding facilitated naturalisation, joint adoption, joint property, access to medically assisted reproduction and legal recognition of parent-child relationships in cases of medically assisted reproduction.

    If they want to be recognised as legally married, same-sex couples currently in RPs will have to apply for the conversion of their RP into legal marriage at the registry office by means of a so-called ‘simplified declaration’, which won’t carry excessive costs, although the exact procedure is yet to be determined and may vary from one canton to the next.

    Those who were married abroad but whose marriage was recognised in Switzerland as an RP will have their RP automatically and retroactively converted into marriage. 

    What other challenges do LGBTQI+ people in Switzerland face, and what else needs to change to advance LGBTQI+ rights?

    A lot remains to be done in terms of preventing, registering and convicting hate crimes adequately. Pink Cross is currently advancing this issue in all cantons, because this is within their jurisdiction. Likewise, we are preparing a first ‘precedent’ to get a ruling on the ‘anti-LGBT agitation’ paragraph that was introduced into criminal law last year.

    Finally, institutional anchorage of LGBTQI+ advocacy definitely still needs to be strengthened on a national level, specifically within the federal administration, either through a specific commission or by extending the mandate of the Federal Office for Gender Equality. So we are also working to move ahead on this.

    Civic space in Switzerland is rated ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Pink Cross through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@pinkcross_ch on Twitter. 


  • SWITZERLAND: ‘The victory of marriage equality will boost our efforts towards the next steps’

    JessicaZuberCIVICUS speaks with Jessica Zuber, co-leader of Operation Libero’s marriage for all campaign, about the recentreferendum on same-sex marriage in Switzerland. Operation Libero is a non-partisan civil society movement founded to campaign against populist initiatives. Its work focuses on preserving and developing liberal democracy, fostering strong relations between Switzerland and Europe, promoting a liberal citizenship law, supporting a democracy-strengthening digital transformation and encouraging more transparent, accountable and inclusive politics.

    What role did Operation Libero play in the process leading to the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage?

    Since its foundation, Operation Libero has fought for equal legal treatment. We accompanied the parliamentary process and lobbied so that the law was passed, which happened in December 2020, after almost seven years. A couple of days before the opponents of the law handed in their referendum request, we pushed our ongoing petition, which went viral and received over 60,000 online signatures within a single weekend. To us, that was a very strong signal on the state of public opinion.

    We launched our campaign six weeks before the vote. It focused on the motto ‘same love, same rights’. Our campaign complemented that of the ‘official’ committee led by the LGBTQI+ community, showing real same-sex couples on their posters. To set ourselves apart and appeal to a more conservative target, we showed same-sex couples alongside heterosexual couples.

    For the launch of our campaign, we staged a marriage and the pictures of this ceremony provided the visuals for media coverage during the campaign. Some of our main concepts were that fundamental rights must apply to all people, and that no one loses when love wins. It was a feel-good campaign, as we intentionally refrained from being too controversial – for instance, by highlighting that homophobia is still a phenomenon very present in Swiss society.

    During the campaign, around 150,000 of our flyers were handed out, 13,000 coasters ordered and 10,000 stickers distributed. Our main financial income to pay for this was the sale of our special socks, of which we sold almost 10,000 pairs. We organised boot camps to prepare voters for debates and launched a poster campaign in train stations and public buses. The joint flyer distribution event with members of the right-wing populist party – who, against the official party line, supported marriage for all – attracted media attention and succeeded in showing how broad support for the law was.

    Last but not least, a week before the vote we held an event where 400 people lined up on either side to applaud newlywed couples – same-sex and different-sex – as they ran through. This was a very inspiring event, the biggest of its kind in Switzerland.

    We are very happy that we won the referendum with 64 per cent of voters supporting the law. September 26th marks a big step for Switzerland: after far too long a wait, access to marriage finally applies to all couples, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. This eliminates key legal inequalities for same-sex couples, for example in facilitated naturalisation, the receipt of widows’ pensions, adoption and reproductive medicine.

    Why was a referendum called after parliament had already legalised same-sex marriage?

    Opponents of the law launched the referendum to try to overturn it. Their arguments were centred on the traditional view of marriage as a ‘natural’ union between a man and a woman and its centrality in society. They said that ‘introducing universal marriage is a social and political rupture that nullifies the historic definition of marriage, understood as a lasting union between a man and a woman’. They were particularly upset by the fact that the law enables access to sperm donation for female couples, as they believe this forfeits the best interests of the child. They also feared that these changes would lead to the legalisation of surrogacy.

    On a more technical level, they argued that universal marriage could not be introduced through a simple legislative amendment, but required a change to the constitution.

    Who were on the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sides in the referendum?

    After parliament passed the law, a cross-party committee – mainly comprising representatives of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union, an ultra-conservative Christian party – launched a petition for a referendum. They successfully gathered more than 50,000 signatures necessary to push their proposal through and get a national vote. The right to veto a parliamentary decision is part of the Swiss system of direct democracy.

    During the campaign, these groups put out campaign posters and online ads and participated in public media discussions. Their main argument was that children’s well-being was in danger, so they put the focus of the public debate on adoption and reproductive rights.

    Fortunately, civil marriage for same-sex couples enjoys widespread political support, as seen on 26 September. With the exception of the Swiss People’s Party, all the governing parties supported the bill, as did the Greens and Liberal Greens, who are not in the government.

    There was even some openness from religious groups. In November 2019 the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches spoke out in favour of same-sex civil marriage; however, the Conference of Swiss Bishops and the Swiss Evangelical Network remain opposed to it.

    The aggressiveness with which the law granting marriage for all was fought and the fact that about a third of voters rejected it, partly for homophobic reasons, shows that homophobia is still widespread and still far too widely accepted.

    We also faced the challenge that as the polls projected a relatively clear victory from the outset, it made it harder for us to mobilise people. Our fear was that people might take victory for granted and not go out to vote. But we were able to reach people with the message that a victory by a wider margin was an even stronger sign for equality in Switzerland.

    What other challenges do LGBTQI+ people face in Switzerland, and what else needs to be changed to advance equal rights?

    LGBTQI+ groups will continue to fight, notably against hate crimes. Marriage for all does not deliver absolute equality for female couples who receive a sperm donation from a friend or choose a sperm bank abroad, in which cases only the biological mother will be recognised. These debates will still occur, and the LGBTQI+ community will continue to fight for equality.

    The clear ‘yes’ to marriage for all is a strong signal that the majority of our society is much more progressive and open towards diverse life choices than our legal system, strongly based on a conservative family model, might suggest. Indeed, marriage for all is just a small step towards adapting the political and legal conditions to the social realities we live in. The ‘yes’ to marriage equality will boost our efforts towards the next steps.

    We demand that all consensual forms of relationships and family models – whether same-sex or opposite-sex, married or not – become equally recognised. Marriage, with its long history as a central instrument of patriarchal power, must no longer be considered the standard model. It must not be privileged, either legally or financially, over other forms of cohabitation. In the coming months and years, Operation Libero will campaign for individual taxation, regulated cohabitation, simplified parenthood and a modern sexual criminal law.

    Civic space in Switzerland is rated ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Operation Libero through itswebsite or itsFacebookTik Tok, andInstagram pages, and follow@operationlibero and@jessicazuber on Twitter.