Switzerland has given broad support to the 22nd session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, which ended on Friday and included an extended probe of suspected abuses in Syria and a new investigation in North Korea.
The month-long meeting of the 47-member council closed with a vote to extend its probe of suspected war crimes in Syria until March 2014.
A commission of enquiry of four independent experts, including Carla Del Ponte, a former Swiss federal prosecutor who also served as prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, has been documenting crimes committed during the conflict in which at least 70,000 people have been killed.
The council condemned "gross violations" by Syrian government forces and allied militia, including shelling of populated areas and massacres during the two-year-old conflict. Rebels were also carrying out atrocities, but not on the same scale, the council added in a resolution brought by Arab and Western states.
Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said Switzerland was satisfied with the resolution adopted which “underlines our demand not to let violations of human rights go unpunished in Syria”.
In a statement published on Friday, the Swiss foreign ministry recalled that Switzerland had written a letter to the UN Security Council in January backed by 57 countries, which called for human rights violations in Syria to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. A similar declaration had been adopted by 64 countries in Geneva, the ministry added.
The foreign ministry also welcomed the unanimous vote for a formal probe, initiated by the US, Japan and the European Union, into North Korea for possible crimes against humanity. It paves the way for a three-member commission of inquiry for one year.
During the council session, Switzerland made a declaration on behalf of 44 countries, urging Bahrain to work more closely with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A Swiss resolution on the protection of human rights during peaceful protest, co-signed by 53 countries, was also adopted by consensus and Switzerland lobbied hard on the issue of the death penalty. Two debates are planned during the next council session.
For the second time in as many years, the council also approved a US-backed resolution urging Sri Lanka to more thoroughly investigate alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the country's quarter-century civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.
On March 14 the final report of Switzerland’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – a human rights peer review exercise carried out every four years - was adopted by the 47-member council.
Switzerland vowed to improve its human rights record, accepting 100 suggestions by other UN member states. Activists commended the Swiss authorities’ inclusive approach during the UPR but said they lacked “political courage” for many of the rejected recommendations.