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Wait goes on for a national human rights body

Human rights campaigners have been stepping up the pressure Keystone

Switzerland has been a driving force behind a new global human rights watchdog but plans for a similar body back home are stuck in the slow lane.

Non-governmental organisations fear the need to find a politically acceptable solution means it could be another three years before a national human rights institution sees the light of day.

The first seeds for such a body were sown five years ago when an initiative was lodged in parliament, calling for the establishment of a federal human rights commission.

The idea was accepted by the House of Representatives in June 2003 and the foreign ministry instructed to examine the options.

But since then nothing has emerged, although the foreign ministry has said on a number of occasions in recent months that its deliberations are at an advanced stage.

“The preparation of this report is taking an unbelievable amount of time and we have not advanced very far towards finding a solution,” Daniel Bolomey, secretary-general of the Swiss branch of Amnesty International, told swissinfo.

“We are disappointed that it’s taken so long but we understand the difficulties. We need to have a model that can win the support of a majority of parliamentarians.”

According to Amnesty, Switzerland is one of the few European countries not to have a national body for monitoring human rights.


Bolomey, who says he has discussed the issue with Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, admits that things are unlikely to move quickly “for multiple reasons”.

Any proposal would have to be cleared first by the cabinet and would then have to run the parliamentary gauntlet. Hence Amnesty’s prediction of a further two- to three-year delay.

NGOs cranked up the pressure in November last year when they presented their own proposal for a national human rights watchdog, totally independent of the government.

This came after a report published in June last year by Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, in which he recommended the creation of an independent national institution for human rights in Switzerland.

Several proposals are believed to be under consideration. These include a federal human rights commission, the project presented by NGOs in November and the idea of reinforcing the synergies between existing federal commissions on foreigners, equality and racism.

Whether the latter would be the right way forward is open to question. During a visit to Switzerland in January, the UN special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diène, noted that existing monitoring bodies already lacked the means and authority to tackle racism, discrimination and xenophobia.


The Federal Commission against Racism (FCR) told swissinfo that it favoured the creation of another federal commission, attached to and financed by the state but operating independently.

“We believe that it’s the responsibility of state to promote the culture of human rights in Switzerland as part of its legal responsibilities and international obligations,” said Böel Sambuc, vice-president of the FCR.

Sambuc lamented the fact that the whole process was taking so long. She said she was disappointed that Switzerland, which strongly supports the proposed Human Rights Council at the United Nations, had not applied the same vigour back home.

Carine Carey, spokeswoman for the Swiss foreign ministry, said a proposal would shortly be submitted to the cabinet to set up a working group to examine the legal basis for a national human rights institution.

She declined to elaborate on when exactly this would happen or what models were likely to be considered. Carey said the foreign ministry had seen the NGO proposal made public in November, which she described as an “interesting option”.

“It will certainly be taken into consideration as part of the ongoing process towards the establishment of a national institution for human rights,” she said.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Switzerland came up with the idea for the new UN Human Rights Council and lobbied hard to see it adopted.
The new body will replace the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, which has been widely criticised for allowing violators to escape condemnation.

The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna recommended that nations set up institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights. Switzerland pledged to do so at the time.

In 2000 non-governmental organisations in Switzerland established a working group to push for a national human rights institution.

In December 2001 two parliamentarians – Vreni Müller Hemmi and Eugen David – proposed the creation of a federal human rights commission to monitor the situation in Switzerland and to ensure the country meets international standards.

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