Access to social welfare benefits for non-citizens in Switzerland

Country: Switzerland
Body: Other Domestic Courts
Case: V.v. Einwohnergemeinde X. und Regierungsrat des Kantons Bern
Case number: BGE/ATF 121 I367
Year of judgement: 1997
PDF of decision

The case involved three brothers, originally from what was previously Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), who were denied access to social welfare benefits in Switzerland on account of being illegal residents . The brothers had been living in Switzerland since 1980, but were expelled to Czechoslovakia in 1987 on charges of criminal offences. They re-entered Switzerland in 1991. Though Switzerland deemed them illegal, they could not be sent back to the Czech Republic as the latter had rescinded their citizenship. However, considering their illegal status, Switzerland denied them social welfare benefits. The verdict of the Federal Court stated that the denial of welfare benefits to the three persons violated the basic minimum levels of subsistence implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. The Court ruled that this right was required for the full enjoyment of other rights such as the rights to life, human dignity and equality. The Court found that this minimum level of subsistence can be claimed by both citizens and non-citizens. Consequent to the decision, the Swiss Constitution was revised to include assistance in distress that is indispensable to lead a life with dignity.

The case brings out an important verdict upholding the principle of equality and non-discrimination in providing social protection. International human rights instruments have recognized the right to social security of all without discrimination of any kind. The case also draws attention to providing an ‘adequate’ level of social protection that is required for every person to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights.

Social Protection and Human Rights