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Parliament questions government commitment to human rights

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Parliament has criticised the government for putting business interests before human rights in its foreign policy. In a debate on Tuesday, speakers said the government was afraid of offending countries such as China and Russia.

Parliamentarians in the House of Representatives praised the government for its human rights policy, but complained that there were serious shortcomings in its dealings with powerful countries with dubious human rights records.

The centre-left described Swiss policy as often contradictory, saying the government criticised the human rights records of Turkey and China, but at the same time granted financial guarantees to Swiss companies doing business in those countries.

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, defended the government, saying it would be wrong to pursue a policy based on criticism and condemnation. He said Switzerland could not go it alone.

Deiss said the example of China showed that positive engagement with countries accused of abusing human rights was a more practical way. But he acknowledged that a good deal of patience was needed before results would be visible.

Deiss also said cooperation between the government, non-governmental organisations and the business community was needed to effectively promote human rights.

Right-wing members of parliament accused the government of being too lenient with Russia over its military campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

They said Switzerland was shying away from criticism for fear of upsetting a big power.

The House also called on the government to regularly submit a report on its foreign policy and human rights.

swissinfo with agencies

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