Anti-Racism Legislation

The Anti-Racism Legislation came into effect on January 1st 1995. At the same time Switzerland joined the «International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination» of the United Nations.

Article 261bis of the Swiss Criminal Code forbids specific, severe forms of racism:

  • Public incitement of hatred or discrimination (par. 1)

  • Systematic denigration or defamation (par. 2)

  • Organising, encouraging or participating in propaganda campaigns (par. 3)

  • Violations of human dignity, whether verbally, in writing or pictorially, by using gestures, through acts of aggression or by other means (par. 4)

  • Denials, trivialisations or seeking justification for genocide or other crimes against humanity (par. 4)

Therefore, Swiss law acknowledges the Holocaust of European Jewry and Sinti and Roma by the Nazis as well as the Massacre of the Armenians in 1915 as genocide.

Offences against the Anti-Racism Legislation

Offences against the Anti-Racism Legislation are publicly prosecuted and therefore do not need a private individual to start a lawsuit. However, usually a private lawsuit is needed to initially inform the state of a specific wrongdoing before the authorities can become active.

Only incidents conducted in public can be prosecuted. Racist acts or statements made in private, e.g. amongst friends and family, cannot be prosecuted.

Article 261bis of the Swiss Criminal Code does not limit the freedom of speech. As in other cases, freedom of speech ends once another protected right is infringed, in this case the right to human dignity. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court states, that in cases of Anti-Racism Legislation, freedom of speech should be given weight, but that it does not overpower infringements of the right to human dignity.

665 cases from 1995 to 2013

The Federal Commission against Racism recorded 665 cases from 1995 to 2013. In roughly a quarter of the cases the victims were Jews.

In 263 of the total 665 cases, the responsible authorities, after assessing the case, ruled not to pursue it further. Regarding the cases that were pursued, 337 cases led to a conviction of the perpetrator (84% of the verdicts) and in 54 cases the defendant was acquitted.

Even though a large majority of the Swiss voters voted for article 261bis of the Swiss Criminal Code there have been political attempts to limit or remove it. So far, none of these attempts where successful. Nevertheless, the parliament decided in 2015 to expand the law to include discrimination based on sexual orientation.