Liechtenstein: Implementation of ICCPR affected by issues related to gender inequality and religious freedom
Rights of religious minorities affected by the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Liechtenstein. Photo credit: New Liturgical Movement
The Human Rights Committee reviewed the second periodic report of Liechtenstein on the 4th and 5th July 2017. Despite the State’s commitment to comply with the Covenant, the List of Issues demonstrates that Lichtenstein faces issues such as domestic violence and the integration of persons with disabilities in the labour market. Among the main questions addressed in the review, there was the creation of an independent National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in November 2016 through the Liechtenstein Human Rights Association Act (LHRA Act), the close ties between the State and the Catholic church and the gender inequality towards women in general, and particularly within the political sphere. No NGOs from Liechtenstein attended the formal briefing despite the importance of discussing those issues during the review. The webcast of the review is available here: part 1 and part 2.
"The maintenance of a high level of implementation of the ICCPR is supported by an independent and impartial judiciary and by our strong democracy. We are committed to strengthen treaty bodies within the UN system"
The creation of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI)
During the review, the Committee demonstrated special interest in the recent adoption of the LHRA Act, which was nonetheless followed by several concerns. The Head of the Liechtenstein delegation stated that the Human Rights Association (HRA) is an independent NHRI in accordance with the Paris Principles, with a mandate to protect and further improve human rights in the country. Committee members, however, raised several questions with regards to the independence of HRA members and as to whether it guarantees a plural representation of different social forces.
In response to some of the issues raised by the Committee, the Deputy Head of Office for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein clarified that membership to the HRA is comprised of individuals or NGOs and that its first board was elected for three years (until 2020). He also made reference to provisions of the LHRA such as art. 1(1) on the HRA’s independent character and art. 4(2) on its main attributions. Among its main functions, the HRA support victims of violations in Liechtenstein and informs the public about the human rights situation in the country.
Strong ties between the State and the Catholic Church
The Constitution of Liechtenstein foresees the Roman Catholic Church as the official State Church and it is funded by certain municipalities, whereas religious minorities are organised as private associations and have to apply for State funding. The Christian Church, for instance, has applied for State funds and currently receives 300.000 Swiss francs per year for its activities. In the review of the State report, the Human Rights Committee expressed concerns regarding the impact that manifestations of the close link between State and church could have for the protection of freedom of religion as envisaged in the Covenant. Despite the fact that approximately 73% of the population in Liechtenstein is Catholic, the Committee called upon the State party to also take the interest of followers of other religions into consideration to ensure an effective implementation of its obligations.
The Deputy Head of the Office for Foreign Affairs has recognised such strong relationship between the State of Liechtenstein and the Catholic Church. According to him, “minority religious are tolerated”, but it is true that they are not “actively supported by the Government.” Furthermore, reference was made to a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution, which would provide the basis for recognition of other communities as long as they fulfil certain criteria such as having a minimum number of 200 followers and presence in Liechtenstein for over 20 years, and that they respect public order. The delegation of Liechtenstein concluded its remarks on this issue by expressing its regret that any progress is unlikely to be made in the near future regarding the separation of State and religion because certain municipalities have not yet accepted the disentanglement of property between the two institutions.
Gender inequality towards women in public life
Despite Liechtenstein strong implementation of the Covenant, issues relating to inequality between men and women in the public sphere remain a reality. The Human Rights Committee has raised concerns on that matter both in the List of Issues and during the review, and made reference to the constitutional exclusion of women from the succession of the throne and its implications to the State’s obligations under articles 25 and 26 of the Covenant.
Committee members have also pointed out the lack of political participation of women in the country, as there are only three female representatives in the Parliament. This represents little more than 3% of the Parliament’s composition. Questions also have been asked on which steps have been taken to promote women’s participation in public affairs and to empower them in decision-making processes. In response, the Deputy Head of Office for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein clarified during the review that several projects have been implemented in that direction in the past and that there also initiatives foreseen for future years, such as the plan to raise knowledge during the 2019 municipal elections about the women who have made part of the political history of the country.
In relation to women’s rights, questions were also asked with respect to the legal exceptions where abortion is permitted, with special attention to the 2015 amendments to the Criminal Code. Committee members welcomed the adoption of those exceptions, but expressed concern regarding the absence of a provision permitting termination of pregnancy in cases of non-viable fetuses. In addition, the State delegation clarified that the “serious damage” to the health of the women that authorises abortion under the Criminal Code covers both their physical and mental health.
Recommendations of the Committee
Within one year, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee’s Concluding Observations:
- Ensure that legal framework prohibits all discrimination and provides for remedies;
- Provide training for judges, prosecutors and lawyers on articles 33(5) and 283 of the Criminal Code and raise public awareness of these provisions.
Sexual and reproductive rights
- Amend legislation to provide for additional exceptions to the legal ban on abortion;
- Ensure access to information on voluntary pregnancy termination options.
Prohibition of torture
- Begin consultation and decision-making processes on the revision of its Criminal Code;
- Enact a prohibition on torture in compliance with the Covenant and international standards, including the removal of statutes of limitations for such crimes;
- Ensure independent investigation mechanisms, and provide for the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators and accomplices, as well as for remedies for victims and their families.
The next (third) periodic report of Liechtenstein should be submitted by 28 July 2023.