Security is a major if not the major topic of conversation in Geneva. Citizens are worried about their basic safety, from unexplained violence to robberies to excessive noise. Security will certainly be a major item in the forthcoming cantonal elections. Newspaper headlines scream that Geneva has become the Bronx, although as a resident of the Bronx, I find this comparison outdated and imprecise. Is it reasonable to compare a canton of 400,000 people with a borough of approximately 1,500,000?
There is another comparison that crops up that I find equally disturbing. Rudy Giuliani, the Mayor of New York from 1994-2002, is often credited for cracking down on crime in New York City.
A hero during the September 11, 2001 attacks, he ran for president in 2008 on a national security platform. The then responsible for the Geneva police, Isabelle Rochat, briefly met Giuliani in September 2011; the local papers swooned over how she was impressed by Giuliani’s zero tolerance tactics. Foreign visitors often describe pre- and post-Giuliani when they come to the Big Apple. Here is a man, they extol, who was able to put the city back as a safe place to visit. And, I am sure, many are wondering whether Pierre Maudet or perhaps Eric Stauffer will be able to do the same.
While the comparison between New York and Geneva as far as size is concerned is apples and oranges, the hero-worship of Giuliani as an example of how to deal with security is also fallacious. When questioned during his short, unsuccessful presidential campaign, he said that he favored aggressive questioning of so-called terrorist suspects, and hesitated to condemn waterboarding as torture and illegal. Indeed, when he was Mayor, Giuliani’s tactics to “clean up” downtown Manhattan were often criticized for violations of basic civil liberties. The “cleaning up” of mid-town Manhattan which so impressed tourists, had little effect in the other boroughs and in no way dealt with the causes of the crimes. Telling vagrants to move on and not loiter in the heated subway stations during the cold winters may have satisfied those taking the subway, but it did not solve the housing problem for the poor in New York.
Geneva is neither the Bronx nor New York. It is, however, recognized as a major capital for human rights and humanitarian law. The Human Rights Council is a symbol of that importance, as is the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. It would be ironic and sad if the international reputation of Geneva for human rights was tarnished by a local insensitivity to the core values it has always proclaimed. Yes diplomats and visitors as well as citizens are concerned with safety. That can never be underestimated. But respects for basic rights should never be underestimated either.
Rudy Giuliani was soundly defeated in his campaign to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2008. Geneva politicians and potential candidates should also beware that citizens are watching how their proposals for increasing security respect fundamental laws and human rights. And, please, no more hero worship of Giuliani.