The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against a Swiss fine issued to a Roma beggar.
In January 2014, a woman begging on the streets of Geneva was fined CHF 500. Unable to pay the fine, the woman was placed in detention for 5 days.
Begging is banned in many places in Switzerland. Laws against the practice exist at cantonal and municipal levels. Activists have tried to have such laws overturned, but with little success. In 2018, one attempt in the canton of Vaud was rejected by the Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s highest court.
In Geneva, begging has been banned for more than 60 years. A law against begging in the canton was first added to the statutes on 1 November 1946.
Arguments for banning begging typically centre on a need to crack down on organised networks that exploit beggars and sometimes children.
However, in this case the European Court of Human Rights decided Geneva’s sanction was not proportionate to the goal of fighting organised crime or of protecting the rights of the public. Placed in a situation of manifest vulnerability, the applicant had a right to human dignity, to be able to express her distress and to try to remedy her situation by begging, said the Strasbourg-based court.
The canton of Geneva was ordered to pay the woman €922 in damages.