Press release

European Court of Human Rights Condemns Racist Policing

February 20, 2024
+1 212-548-0378

LONDON—The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found that police in the Swiss city of Zurich engaged in ethnic profiling, in an identity check stop carried out on Mohamed Wa Baile, a Swiss citizen, at the city’s’ train station in 2015.

Wa Baile was on his way to work when he was stopped by the police and asked for his identity documents. The police report noted Wa Baile’s dark skin colour and indicated that suspicion was aroused because he allegedly looked away from police officers. 

In its decision [pdf], the ECHR found that, in the absence of an objective reason for stopping Wa Baile, there was a strong presumption that he was a victim of discrimination. As the government of Switzerland failed to produce evidence showing otherwise, the court found that Wa Baile’s right of non-discrimination had been violated, taken together with his right to respect for private life. The court found that Switzerland further violated Wa Baile’s human rights by failing to investigate whether the stop was racially motivated.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has challenged ethnic profiling for well over a decade, and had intervened as a third party in the cases brought by Wa Baile at the Strasbourg-based ECHR.   

“We welcome today’s strong judgment by the European Court of Human Rights condemning racially discriminatory policing. Ethnic profiling is unlawful, unfair and ineffective policing,” said Susheela Math, Senior Managing Litigation Officer at the Justice Initiative. "This judgment is a robust reminder that states are legally obliged under both European and international laws to prevent ethnic profiling, as well as to ensure effective redress for victims."

In finding for Mr Wa Baile, the court ordered Switzerland was to pay him  23,975 euros in respect of costs and expenses.

The Justice Initiative is separately representing young victims of systemic ethnic profiling by French police before the ECHR in another ongoing case, Seydi and others v. France.

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