Between assistance and coercion, a dark page in Swiss history updated – rts.ch

Between assistance and coercion, a dark page in Swiss history updated – rts.ch
Between assistance and coercion, a dark page in Swiss history updated – rts.ch

The National Research Program “Assistance and coercion – past, present and future” (PNR 76) presents its conclusions to the press on Thursday May 16, 2024. Carried out between 2018 and 2023, counting 29 research projects and 150 scientists, PNR 76 of the Swiss National Fund (SNF) allows us to look back on the history of hundreds of thousands of cases of obvious institutional violence taken under the pretext of assistance in the 20th century.

“Measures taken by the authorities against adults and minors – known to the public as coercive measures for the purposes of assistance and extra-family placements – were ordered before 1981 within the framework of curatorship and guardianship services, on the basis of cantonal practices and in the almost total absence of procedural rights”, explains the online presentation of the National Research Program “Assistance and coercion – past, present and future”.

This is the nerve center of PNR 76’s research: coercive measures taken by social assistance authorities against individuals have led to the violation of their fundamental rights.

A heritage which has not entirely disappeared from the Swiss social system, according to the conclusions of the PNR. Even today, the right to participation and self-determination of people living in precarious circumstances or suffering from disabilities is not always guaranteed.

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Violence recognized by the Confederation

The list of violence inflicted is long: abusive detentions (for example, the authorities could order, without trial or right of appeal, the internment of minors or adults in closed establishments for an indefinite period for the purposes of re-education at work ); extra-familial placements (in particular minors from poor families, orphans or born out of wedlock forcibly placed in institutions or families, often peasants); physical, psychological, medical (such as forced drug testing) and sexual institutional violence (for example, until the 1970s, forced abortions and sterilizations were carried out for social or eugenic reasons); cases of similar violence (mistreatment, abuse, discrimination, forced labor) within “host families”.

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Since the Federal Council’s apologies in April 2013, the suffering inflicted on the victims of these acts has been recognized, at least for those who suffered them before 1981. A compensation fund of 300 million francs has also been set up. foot by the Confederation.

And, with a budget of 18 million francs, it was the Confederation which entrusted the FNS in February 2017 with the mission of updating our historical understanding of this tragedy (read box at the end of the article).


The Caregiver project: support for victims of coercive measures in Bern

The canton of Bern stands out for the high number of former children and people who have suffered coercive measures for assistance purposes.

The Caregiver Project provides an online platform where victims of coercion can get help from people with similar experiences, helping victims manage the emotional and practical challenges of old age.

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Temporal discrimination: the case of forced internments post-1981

Samanta, a woman from Ticino, testifies at the microphone of RSI (Radiotelevisione svizzera di lingua italiana) on her story, on the suffering and abuse suffered during forced placement in the 90s. She fights for recognition by the authorities of what she endured.

Indeed, Swiss legislation excludes victims after 1981 from any compensation, because forced placements in Switzerland “officially” ended that year according to the law.

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“Les Oubliés du Bonheur”: the exhibition on the broken destinies of children in care

Between 2020 and 2021, the exhibition “Les Obliés du Bonheur” at the Rhetic Museum in Chur shed a harsh light on this dark chapter in Swiss history. The RTR (Radiotelevisiun Svizra Rumantscha) newscast took the opportunity to immerse itself in the unique exhibition.

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Testimonies from foster children

Before 1981, in Switzerland, some 100,000 children of poverty were forcibly placed in families or institutions. In recent years, more and more victims have crossed the wall of shame to seek compensation. In 2014, SWI swissinfo.ch collected four very eloquent testimonies of the tragedy of forced placement, which can be found on the site swissinfo.ch.

Julien Furrer

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