On 13 October 2018, during a climate march in Geneva, a young climate activist from the collective “BreakFree Suisse” spread his hands smeared with red paint all over the facade of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, leaving red handprints to denounce investments in fossil fuels. According to the climate activist, these red handprints symbolized the blood of the various victims of climate change.
On 20 February 2020, the activist was found guilty by the Tribunal de police (“Police Court”) for property damage.
On 14 October 2020, the Cour de Justice (“Court of Justice”) acquitted the climate activist and argued that the young man had acted in a putative state of necessity due to climate change.
A year later, on 28 September 2021, the Swiss Bundesgericht (“Federal Supreme Court”) overturned this decision and referred the case back to the Cour de Justice. The Bundesgericht argued that climate change and the resulting consequences do not represent an imminent danger to individual legal interests.
Consequently, on 31 March 2022, the Cour de Justice revised its first decision and ordered the climate activist to pay a symbolic fine of 100 Swiss francs as well as compensation for material damage.
In a similar case in Lausanne, climate activists from the same collective were on trial after occupying the entrance halls of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.
The activist invoked his rights to freedom of expression (Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) and assembly and association (Article 11 ECHR).
The Swiss Bundesgericht held that Article 11 ECHR only protects the right to freedom of “peaceful assembly”. With his behavior, the young man committed an act of vandalism, which is incompatible with freedom of expression. Accordingly, the Court found that the activist could not rely on Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.
It was reported that applications concerning both of these cases have been filed at the European Court of Human Rights.
28 September 2021
Swiss Bundesgericht, N.B. v. Credit Suisse, 6B_1310/2020, 6B_1298/2020, Judgment of 28 September 2021.
For the Federal Supreme Court’s judgment, see here.
For the Cour de justice’s second judgment, see here.
For the Cour de Justice’s first judgment, see here.
For the Tribunal de police’s judgment, see here.