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NGOs call for improved human rights policy

A Bulgarian family refused admission to Switzerland. Migration is one area the NGOs highlighted

(Keystone)

More than 30 Swiss non-governmental organisations have raised concerns about human rights practices in Switzerland in a report addressed to the United Nations.

The coalition's comments come as Switzerland prepares the first ever account of its domestic human rights policy for the UN.

The NGOs' report, released on Tuesday, pointed in particular to the lack of institutional mechanisms to ensure the effective implementation of human rights conventions already ratified by Switzerland.

"Switzerland has not yet established a national human rights institution that would accompany the Swiss federal and cantonal authorities in this implementation process," Sandra Imhof, coordinator for the coalition of NGOs, told swissinfo.

"The second point is that Switzerland has not yet set up a UN national action plan for ratified human rights conventions," she added.

In response to the institution idea, Lars Knuchel, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said that the government had set up a working group in January 2007 to examine the necessity and benefits of the idea as well as possible models. He added that talks on the issue are ongoing.

The idea was first mooted by the foreign ministry six years ago and proposals have since been launched in parliament, he explained.

Another problem flagged up by the NGOs is federalism and the dividing up of duties between the federal and cantonal authorities. With the 26 cantons each having their own systems, differences ensue, they say.

Migrants

One area singled out was the treatment of migrant women who had been subject to sexual violence. They were found to face different levels of assistance in cantons and even the threat of being expelled from the country, said Imhof.

Another issue was disabled children. Under federal law they should be integrated into non-specialist schools, "but in practice very few cantons have implemented this obligation," she added.

The coalition is calling on Switzerland to ratify the UN conventions on migrant workers, enforced disappearances, and disabled people. It also wants the law against discrimination to be tightened, including the strategies against racism and xenophobia.

Switzerland has come under criticism in the past by the UN over its asylum policy and allegations of racism.

Human rights review

The NGOs released their comments ahead of the examination of the official Swiss report into domestic human rights by the UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council in May.

This is the first time, according to Imhof, that Switzerland has had to report on this issue. NGOs may also contribute to the Universal Periodic Review, which is being extended to all 192 UN members.

On Tuesday representatives from the large coalition of NGOs held talks with Swiss foreign ministry officials on the official report. Imhof said the meeting had been "constructive".

"We are of course the first to admit that we live in a country where human rights are widely accepted. Switzerland does a lot at an international level. In its foreign policy human rights play a very important role, but it is not the case in its internal policy," Imhof told swissinfo.

"It's a question of credibility in the international arena and it's a question of coherence. To have this coherence ensured within the state is one of the major challenges for Switzerland."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Human Rights Council

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey came up with the concept of the Human Rights Council in March 2004 to replace the UN Human Rights Commission created in 1946.

The UN officially accepted the idea in September 2005.

The first session of the UN Human Rights Council took place in June 2006 at its headquarters in Geneva. The Council reports directly to the UN General Assembly.

It consists of 47 member states, which are selected with absolute majority by the UN General Assembly. It meets at least three times a year and can in addition hold special meetings to discuss crisis situations.

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