Swiss request seat on new UN rights body

Council members will be elected at the UN in New York next month Keystone

The Swiss government has formally applied for a seat on the new United Nations Human Rights Council, which will hold its first-ever session in Geneva on June 19.

This content was published on April 4, 2006 - 12:02

Declaring its candidacy, Switzerland pledged to ensure the council became "a strong and effective body capable of protecting and promoting all human rights everywhere".

The Swiss, who played a central role in the creation of the new rights body, called on fellow UN member states to support its candidacy when elections for the 47-strong council are held by the General Assembly on May 9.

"Respect for human rights is deeply rooted in Swiss tradition and in the Swiss federal constitution," the Swiss Mission to the UN in New York said in a letter to member states.

"Switzerland is committed to upholding the highest standards in the protection and promotion of human rights and continues to pursue an active human rights policy at the national, regional and universal level in compliance with international law."

The council is replacing the Human Rights Commission, which wrapped up 60 years of work in Geneva last week.

The 53-member commission had been widely criticised for allowing some countries with appalling human rights records to escape censure. Commission members in recent years included Libya, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

According to the UN, 17 countries have formally submitted their names to the General Assembly. They include Algeria, Pakistan, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Switzerland.

Pledges

Switzerland is one of around half a dozen countries to have sent letters to the assembly, containing a series of pledges if elected to the council.

The Swiss, who point out that they never had an opportunity to serve on the commission, have made four pledges with 20 specific actions.

They include submitting to peer reviews – one of the key mechanisms of the new council – and fulfilling human rights obligations at federal and cantonal level.

But no specific mention is made of slow-moving plans for a national human rights watchdog. Switzerland is one of the few European countries not to have such a body.

The Swiss have also promised to ratify in the near future the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The government said it would also consider ratification of the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont with agencies

In brief

The Human Rights Council, which stems from a Swiss initiative, was created by the UN General Assembly on March 15.

Only four countries – the United States, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau – opposed the new body. The US has said it will cooperate with the council and has not ruled out running for a seat.

Countries will be elected by an absolute majority of the 191 UN member states – the US lobbied unsuccessfully for a two-thirds majority to keep abusers out.

But the General Assembly can kick those guilty of gross violations off the council by a two-thirds majority.

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Key facts

Candidates as of April 4:

Africa: Algeria.
Asia: Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Eastern Europe: the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia.
Latin America and Caribbean seats: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua.
Western European and other: Germany, Greece, Portugal and Switzerland.

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