Only a couple of days ago, on 10 September 2010, Switzerland’s justice minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf issued an official apology on behalf of the Swiss government to thousands of her fellow citizens, as the small Alpine republic was once again shaken by a confrontation with its not so distant, not so clean past.
The reason for the admission of guilt was the long-awaited acknowledgment of government atrocities committed between 1942 and 1981, when thousands of men and women across the country were imprisoned without trial, in line with a policy then called ‘administrative detention’. This procedure was aimed primarily at young men and women, usually teenagers, who were judged by their parents and/or communities to be socially ‘difficult’. Official reasons for the incarceration often included ‘depraved lifestyle’, ‘licentiousness’ or ‘alcoholism’.
Many cases involved unmarried girls who got pregnant, and were then shunned by their embarrassed families only to end up being forced to give up their babies for adoption. Some young women – deemed to have ‘loose morals’ – were even forcibly sterilized by command of the authorities.
At the same time, thousands of young men, most of them unskilled day laborers, were imprisoned and forced to work without pay. All these men, women and children had, however, never committed a crime and had therefore also never faced trial. They never had access to any form of legal support and were never given the possibility to appeal. They were completely innocent – even according to the laws of the day. » More