A mandate for change: in March 2007, Doudou Diene, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism issued a controversial report alleging that Switzerland suffers from "disturbing" patterns of both racism and xenophobia. Swiss News recently caught up with the busy Diene for an update on Switzerland's progress more than one year on.

AuteurBlake, Chris
Fonction POLITICS - Cover story

"Xenophobia does exist in Switzerland. It manifests itself as a very narrow idea of nationalism ... It is very worrying when political parties use that fear to build their platform."

--Doudou Diene on xenophobia in Switzerland

"My work focuses on the victims. I think one of the worst things [victims] feel is isolation. They have been in Switzerland ten or 20 years. They pay their taxes and such, but feel profoundly unaccepted here."

--On the lasting effects of discrimination


Chris Blake, Swiss News: What have been the most satisfactory and most disappointing responses to your Report on Racism in Switzerland?

Doudou Diene: The most satisfactory thing was the level of the debate in Switzerland. Swiss society has faced the issue and it was properly covered by the Swiss media. Also, the Swiss government was involved and through a number of conversations with Swiss officials, it is clear they are dealing with problems of xenophobia and racism.

I pointed out several critical issues including the invisibility of minorities at the highest levels of power. And since then we have had the first election of a Swiss of African origin [Ricardo Lumengo] to the Swiss [federal] parliament and in Fribourg, another black man, Carl-Alex Ridore was elected prefect. I find these developments to be very interesting.

But I was disappointed [that] there is the continued political instrumentation of xenophobia by some Swiss political parties. Ultimately Switzerland will have to face and accept diversity.

Did you anticipate such a negative response from some segments of the Swiss government and the public?

Yes. This is usually a part of my work. I've visited 25 countries in six years and there is always resistance to what you are doing. But I have to say the personal attacks cut more deeply here than in other countries. One government official said he understood that the Special Rapporteur's work may be necessary, but did not see why it should be carried out by someone from Senegal. Still, this statement was strongly condemned by other Swiss officials including Pascal Couchepin and the media as well. After all, this is the 21st century and Switzerland does host the United Nations with a strong humanitarian tradition such as with the Red Cross.

Another disappointment was statements that I was interfering with the internal affairs of Switzerland. Again, I was surprised by this in a country so long vested in the issues of human rights and...

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