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Why Switzerland hasn’t (yet) signed the treaty banning nuclear weapons

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 12:00
Switzerland has not yet signed or ratified the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, adopted by the United Nations last summer. A decision is expected in the coming months. Meanwhile, pressure is building for the Swiss to adhere to the convention. Despite participating in the preparatory work and negotiations of the treaty, Switzerland is one of several countries that has yet to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. To date, 122 countries have adopted the treaty, 57 have signed and five have ratified it.  Campaigners argue that a failure to sign the treaty by Switzerland could have an impact on the country’s humanitarian credentials. “If Switzerland does not sign this treaty, people will question our status as a champion of humanitarian rights and disarmament. I think [failure to sign] would undermine our credibility in this area,” Beatrice Fihn, head of the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said during an interview on RTS recently.
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Prominent Swiss theologian turns 90

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 12:00
Admonished as well as celebrated, outspoken Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng is 90 years old today – Saint Joseph’s Day.  An ordained priest, Küng was a theology professor at Tübingen University in Germany. He served as a theological adviser to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and was the first major Catholic theologian to reject papal infallibility. The Vatican revoked his right to teach Catholic theology in 1979.  In 1995 Küng established the Global Ethic Foundation, which aims to help teach children basic ethical rules and understanding of values.  For his work Küng has won a number of awards, such as the Lev-Kopelev and Buddhist peace prizes and the Interfaith Education Award. He has also written and co-authored several books in German and English. In this report from the 2003 archives of Swiss Radio International – the predecessor of swissinfo.ch – Küng discusses his book, Hard-won Freedom, with journalist Jonathan Summerton.
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Telecommunications: 5G is coming to Switzerland

Sun, 03/18/2018 - 19:00
Following a successful pilot project, Swiss telecom group Swisscom is ready to deploy 5G – shorthand for fifth generation wireless systems – at selected sites this year. In a press release earlier this month, Swisscom said that it anticipates 5G coverage “throughout the Swiss territory” in 2020, adding that 5G-ready phones are expected to appear on the global market in early 2019. In the spring of 2017, Swisscom partnered with medical device manufacturer Ypsomed to pilot 5G technology at every stage of the production chain for the fabrication of injection pens. Over the past year, the entire manufacturing process for the devices, which are used to administer medical treatments such as insulin, has been digitised using a 5G antenna – from the provision of raw materials to shipping and delivery. "The results achieved with Ypsomed when applying 5G in production have exceeded our expectations and offer interesting future prospects", said Heinz Herren, Swisscom’s Chief Information ...
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Timely: from train punctuality to luxury watch sales

Sun, 03/18/2018 - 13:00
Here are the stories we’ll be following the week of March 19: Monday This week, Switzerland officially takes over the leadership of the UN-sponsored Conference on Nuclear Disarmament, which has been stuck in a deadlock for two decades even as nuclear tensions build worldwide. Our piece on Monday will examine how non-nuclear Switzerland might be able to find a way forward. Tuesday On this morning, the Swiss Federal Railways will hold its annual press conference, in which they will communicate the past year’s round-up of facts and figures for punctuality and quality of service. We’ll find out if the Swiss can still set their watches to the departure or arrival of Swiss trains. Wednesday On the eve of the 2018 Baselworld event – the world’s biggest watch and jewellery fair – we investigate how the luxury watch industry is approaching internet sales. swissinfo.ch interviews representatives from four different brands to see how they’ve handled the transition from showroom ...
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Is Swiss town Chur one of world’s oldest?

Sun, 03/18/2018 - 12:00
The Swiss town of Chur claims it’s at least 11,000 years old. If true, that would make it as old or older than Jericho in the Middle East, accepted as one of the earliest continuous settlements in the world. Can the Chur claim hold up?  A suggestion to first-time visitors to the old part of the town in eastern Switzerland: Leave your map in your pocket and get a little lost. Wander the winding cobblestone lanes (no cars allowed) and you’ll soon stumble upon superbly preserved old buildings with richly detailed painted façades, hidden courtyards, ornate doors and clocks, and the stalwart 15th-century St Martin’s Church (stained glass by Augusto Giacometti).  There are also fascinating historical exhibits in the Rätisches Museum (yes, there’s a crossbow) plus plenty of little cafés, boutiques and hotels. The oldest buildings date from after the great fire of 1464, which destroyed most of the town.  But Chur (first two letters pronounced like a guttural ‘k’) is much older, ...
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By the numbers: Switzerland scores high on prices, lower on happiness

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 18:00
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. Sunday 865,000 The number of guns currently registered in Switzerland’s intercantonal platform. As newspaper SonntagsBlick reported on Sunday, this represents a 9% increase over last year.  Monday 100,000 The estimated cost in Swiss francs of damages caused by vandals at an unauthorised march in Zurich on International Women’s Day. Zurich police said in a statement on Monday that they did not intervene during the “massive damage to property” because of the large number of women and children in attendance.  Tuesday 230 The number of people who lost their lives in Swiss road accidents in 2017, according to the Federal Office of Transport. Although that’s 14 more deaths than in 2016, the overall trend has been downward since 2013. Wednesday 5 Switzerland’s ranking ...
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Geneva puts spotlight on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 18:00
The plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya community was the centre of attention in Geneva last week with allegations of “acts of genocide” against the Muslim minority, counterclaims by Myanmar officials, a donor appeal for almost $1 billion (CHF954 million) and a bleak documentary film about a Buddhist monk stirring up ethnic hate. Since August 25, 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar to Bangladesh as security forces carried out brutal crackdowns, following attacks by Rohingya insurgents.  “This is on top of 200,000 Rohingya already living in Bangladesh, so we are getting close to the one-million mark,” Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva on Friday. Although movements into Bangladesh have slowed since last year, smaller groups of people continue to arrive, suggesting the situation has still not stabilised, he added. The UN describes the exodus as “one of the fastest growing refugee crises in ...
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Geneva motor show: Mechanics gear up for revolution

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 12:00
Not all of 700,000 visitors to Geneva's International Motor Show are there for the fancy cars. The Swiss automotive industry includes some 20,000 companies employing ten times as many people, among them many mechanics, and they’re at the show to find out how best to serve their clients. Visitors will struggle to find Swiss-manufactured cars among the glittering premiers on show. But swissinfo.ch found two Swiss productions, both from canton Zurich: the ‘Microlino’, a small, front-opening electric car that can plug into normal domestic sockets. It’s a Swiss idea but the cars are produced in Italy. Then there’s the latest concept vehicle developed by Rinspeed. The autonomous ‘Snap’ vehicle has a chassis called a skateboard, on top of which sits a ‘pod’ that can be used as a stationary or mobile unit for camping, conferences or normal travel. Shopping for ‘accessories’ Not far away in a different hall at the show, Swiss people who work in the auto industry will find everything ...
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A life in limbo for Switzerland's F permit holders

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 16:00
“Living in Switzerland with an F permit is like living in limbo.” That’s the verdict of four asylum seekers who have been 'provisionally admitted' to the country. Their asylum requests have been turned down, but it is unsafe for them to return home.  There are 41,000 F permit holders in Switzerland but only one in three has a job. Eight out of ten are dependent on social assistance. Their ability to find work, though guaranteed by law, is often limited because their qualifications are not recognised, they have to live in a particular canton and prospective employers are wary of their provisional status. They could be asked to leave the country at any time.  Restrictions People with this temporary status do not have the same rights as refugees. People we spoke to said they had apartments assigned to them by their cantons of residence, and that they felt safe, but they cannot independently sign a lease or a mobile phone contract. They cannot open a bank account if they have no ...
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Switzerland promotes democracy where it hurts

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 12:00
Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Taiwan: all countries in which Switzerland is actively engaged for more democracy. But what on paper sounds easy and almost self-evident is, on the ground, seriously hard work.  “We’re not so easy to find,” admits the porter at the Swiss embassy in Myanmar, which since opening six years ago has been the first port of call for every visitor. It had taken my driver three attempts to locate the old villa with a lush garden in Yangon, until 2006 the national capital and still the country’s largest city.  #Dear Democracy This text is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch. Switzerland is one of the most engaged supporters of the still highly fragile democracy in the former Burma.  “Over the past five years we’ve invested a good CHF122 million ($129 million) here in Myanmar,” says Agnès Christeler, head of political and economic affairs at the embassy, which employs several dozen staff. Of this money, she says around ...
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What does ‘life sentence’ mean in Switzerland?

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 11:30
The trial of a quadruple murderer has reignited the debate on lifelong imprisonment in Switzerland, where 'life' doesn't necessarily mean 'until death', and dangerous repeat offenders sometimes walk free. In the United States, courts can pass prison sentences of more than 100 years. Regardless of the age of the defendant at the time of the crime, he or she may be placed behind bars and prevented from harming anyone outside of the prison. It's different in Switzerland. Yes, the criminal code provides for a "punishment of lifelong deprivation of liberty" for especially serious crimes such as murder, rape, hostage-taking or genocide. But that doesn't mean the defendant will remain in prison until the end of his or her days. Conditional release can occur after 15 years, and in certain cases, even after ten years. The problem is that even if the defendant carries out the sentence for the crime, paid his or her debt to society and regained the right to live freely, he or she can ...
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People in wheelchairs can drink and drive!

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 18:00
"True Talk" puts people in front of the camera who are fighting prejudice or discrimination. They answer questions that nobody would normally dare to ask directly.  This week, we speak to Hitzi, who is physically handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. He says Switzerland is not at all wheelchair friendly, which can make life quite difficult. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)
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Drones invade arts, performance, and hearts

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 16:00
In this instalment of our opinion series, swissnex Boston Communications Manager Jake Link describes how a swarm of synchronised drones captured his imagination – and his heart – and raised his hopes for a technology that often inspires public uneasiness. The idea of a drone future, filled with omnipresent robots and buzzing skies, often feels heavy and foreboding. Much of the discussion around the drone-ification of our major industries focuses on issues like privacy, security, trust, and safety. While this new drone era is bringing rapid innovation to nearly every sector, it also brings a general sense of skepticism and concern. This apprehension is certainly something I’ve thought a lot about and discussed heavily with friends and colleagues over the past couple of years, and we all seem to share an optimistic, but slightly nervous sentiment. The explosion in drone technology prompted a new yearlong event series from swissnex Boston called “Aerial Futures: The Drone ...
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How a new kind of Swiss store changed the way we shop

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:28
Seventy years ago, buying groceries in Switzerland and the rest of Europe changed forever when the Swiss retailer Migros opened a new kind of store in Zurich. In March 1948, Migros founder Gottlieb Duttweiler introduced the first self-service store on Seidengasse in Zurich, a controversial move at the time. It meant that customers could, for the first time, choose their own products on shelves instead of getting them from a person behind a counter. The concept was met with hostility by long-established village and neighbourhood shops, while newspaper reports deemed that picking out one’s own products was something extremely "un-Swiss". Prior to the innovation, Swiss grocery stores always had a shopkeeper behind a counter who would pick out what the customer required. In turn, the customer had to pay before even touching what they had just bought. However, customers quickly began to appreciate being able to fill a shopping basket with goods hand-picked from the shelves quickly.
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Brexit - the view from Switzerland

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:00
The knock-on effects of the 2016 Brexit vote are still reverberating across Europe. In Switzerland, especially, where the government is also trying to pin down its ties with Brussels, the future shape of EU-UK relations are being keenly observed. Former British Ambassador to Bern David Moran and Cenni Najy of foraus discuss the current political situation. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to ensure that you don’t miss the next one.
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Watch Stephen Hawking's Swiss visit in 1987

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 12:27
Physicist Stephen Hawking, who died on Wednesday, gave a speech at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in 1987. Here is an excerpt.   On September 4, 1987, Hawking presented his views on the "Origins of the Universe" at the institute. He was honoured at the event as patron of a foundation doing research into the physicist's motor neuron disease.  The German-language Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper wrote this about his visit: "Hawking came at the invitation of the ALS/MND research institute, and gave two presentations which were played from a disc. It was a bit like science fiction. While many sentences were pre-programmed, it took him some time to answer unexpected questions. When a member of the audience tried excusing themselve for their poor lack of knowledge of the research field, he answered laconically, 'That goes for most people'." (SRF, swissinfo.ch)
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‘We must not impose politics on the artists’ work’

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 12:00
Philippe Bischof, the new director of the Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia, talks to swissinfo.ch about the significance of cultural exchanges abroad. He says art offers a chance for dialogue, and explains how Pro Helvetia helps support cultural projects in countries where art is under political pressure. swissinfo.ch: If you had to describe the state of Swiss art to “sell” it abroad, how would you do it? Philippe Bischof: With diversity, because this is quite specific for Switzerland. It’s a country of four official languages. There’s not just one Swiss culture but many Swiss cultures and this is appreciated in other countries, I hear that often.  Then there is the matter of quality. Switzerland is a rich country – there’s a high quality in the making [of art] and there are very good art academies. It’s an art made in excellent circumstances with good funds and infrastructure – that’s something you recognize easily. There’s as well a kind of specific innovation, with a lot of ...
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The making of a well-behaved sheepdog

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 11:35
When hikers come across herding dogs in the Swiss countryside, the animals can appear aggressive and  threateneding The Swiss authorities have decided new measures are needed to make these dogs more human-friendly. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Christian Mühlethaler from Meinisberg, canton Bern is one of 20 breeders in Switzerland working with livestock guarding dogs. At the end of December 2017, one of his dogs had a litter of 12 puppies. As part of new measures introduced by the authorities, Mühlethaler’s dogs will have to undergo training before they are one year old, after which they will be tested on how well they interact with humans. As recently as five years ago, it was common practice for herd protection dogs to be separated from their mothers when still puppies. They were growing up exclusively among sheep, and only rarely coming into contact with people. As a result, such dogs were unaccustomed to human contact and in certain situations could react aggressively to people such ...
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Is Switzerland about to follow Russia's legal lead?

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 18:00
International treaties or national law – what takes precedence? In Switzerland, a people’s initiative wants to decide this once and for all, but is coming up against strong resistance in parliament and civil society. Switzerland has signed over 5,000 international treaties with other states. But those behind the people’s initiative “Swiss law instead of foreign judges” want to ensure that in the future Swiss law takes precedence over the international. Launched by the conservative-right Swiss People’s Party, the initiative proposes that the federal constitution should take precedence over international law, and that the country cannot take on international obligations that run against it. If this was to be the case, it says, Switzerland would have to either modify or leave the international treaty in question. “Here, it’s us that decide”, the initiators say. Whatever the Swiss electorate chooses should be applied – regardless of what has been agreed with other countries or ...
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Swiss NGOs on frontline of South Sudan’s forgotten war

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 12:00
As the United Nations Human Rights Council hears a new report on abuses in South Sudan, we look at how two Swiss non-governmental groups are working against the odds to help alleviate the suffering of the population. On Tuesday, the Human Rights Council is discussing a UN commission report documenting new abuses against civilians in South Sudan, including gang rapes, beheadings and blindings. “We talk of a crime against humanity of persecution with an ethnic dimension,” says commission member Andrew Clapham, professor of international law at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, “and in those instances we felt there was a deliberate attempt to humiliate people because of their ethnicity and to get them to move on or move out.” The commission says there is enough evidence to launch judicial investigations against more than 40 senior South Sudanese officers and officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity (see box for more on our interview with Andrew Clapham). Speaking at ...
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