I.P.O. Information Service

Swiss minaret ban violates basic human rights and threatens religious peace in Europe

Statement of the President of the International Progress Organization


Vienna, 3 December 2009

In a statement issued yesterday, the President of the International Progress Organization (I.P.O.), Dr. Hans Köchler, strongly condemned the amendment to the Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, which bans the building of minarets.

The provision of Art. 72, Par. 3 of the amended Federal Constitution – “Der Bau von Minaretten ist verboten” / “The building of minarets is prohibited” – constitutes a clear and open violation of Switzerland’s legal obligations as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Switzerland acceded on 18 June 1992) and of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (which Switzerland ratified on 28 November 1974).

Art. 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966, provides that everyone shall have the “freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” Art. 9 of the European Human Rights Convention contains an identical provision; Art. 14 of that Convention furthermore prohibits discrimination on the ground of religion.

Because the minaret ban has been enacted by means of an amendment to the Federal Constitution – through Federal Popular Initiative and Referendum –, a judicial review within the Swiss constitutional system appears unlikely. The Swiss citizens have to be reminded, however, that even they – as the "sovereign people" and supreme political authority under the country’s Constitution – cannot abrogate basic human rights norms, which (a) form part of jus cogens and (b) are international treaty obligations of the Swiss Confederation. It makes no difference whether decisions have been made by way of direct or representative democracy: the principle of pacta sunt servanda applies in all circumstances.

The President of the International Progress Organization appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to address, on the basis of its mandate as subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly, the situation resulting from Switzerland’s violation of the right to freedom of religion.

Dr. Köchler further stated that, by virtue of Art. 33 of the European Human Rights Convention, any State Party to the Convention may refer Switzerland’s breach of her obligations under Arts. 9 and 14 of the Convention to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Irrespective of individual applications by Swiss citizens whose rights have been violated by the ban, it is to be hoped that at least one Member State of the Council of Europe will raise the issue before the Court.

He further said that the minaret ban has seriously damaged Switzerland’s reputation as host country of United Nations human rights bodies and as depositary State of the Geneva Conventions. Switzerland must not engage in a policy of double standards, preaching respect of human rights abroad and violating one of the most basic rights at home.

The President of the International Progress Organization also condemned the incitement to hatred and the anti-Islamic campaign that preceded the referendum in Switzerland. The blatant and discriminatory interference by the Swiss electorate into the Muslim community's exercise of religious freedom not only threatens inter-religious peace in Switzerland and Europe, but seriously undermines efforts at a better understanding between Christians and Muslims worldwide. Regrettably, the Swiss electorate’s decision has further emboldened anti-Islamic groups and politicians, and has strengthened racist and anti-foreigner sentiments everywhere in Europe.

Domestic peace and political stability in the larger Europe will depend on how the peoples of the continent will deal with the multicultural realities of our time. Religious discrimination and double standards in the application of human rights may bring Europe one step closer to a “clash of civilizations” that will endanger the continent’s future, the President of the I.P.O. concluded.

International Progress Organization 
Enquiries: info@i-p-o.org, phone +43-1-5332877, fax +43-1-5332962, postal address: A-1010 Vienna, Kohlmarkt 4, Austria