Switzerland urged to improve discrimination record

The ceiling of a Geneva conference room, decorated by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló, which is home to the United Nations Human Rights Council Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi

Switzerland has been defending its human rights record before the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. States welcomed Swiss progress since its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2012 but urged greater efforts to fight discrimination and to improve the integration of migrants. 

Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

On Thursday, Pascale Baeriswyl, State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry, and a dozen-strong delegation defended Switzerland’s national human rights record for the third time before the UN council in a peer review process known as UPR

At the opening of a so-called ‘interactive dialogue’ session with member states, Baeriswyl underlined Switzerland’s high respect for human rights, while acknowledging that ‘no country can be complacent’, as protecting human rights is a ‘never-ending task’. 

For their part, several states said Switzerland should make greater efforts to combat racism, stop violence against women and better protect migrant workers. 

Others welcomed a draft bill aimed at establishing a national human rights institution, while stressing the need for it to remain independent. Baeriswyl said the institution should be in place by 2020, if parliament agrees.

Several countries, however, criticised Switzerland for not having ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (known as the Istanbul Convention). Baeriswyl said the process was ‘ongoing’. 

Others repeated their demands for Switzerland to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Baeriswyl said Switzerland, like several other OECD states, does not intend to sign up the convention. 

Manon Schick, the director of the Swiss branch of Amnesty International, who was present in Geneva, said she was struck by how many states praised Switzerland for human rights measures it had introduced, including the ratification of certain treaties. 

“But these same states also pointed out the real problems in the country, namely wage inequality between men and women, domestic violence, racial discrimination and hate speech, not to mention the creation of a truly independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles (which set the framework for such an institution),” said Schick. 

"The main interest of this kind of [peer review] examination lies in its preparation and follow-up. In drafting its report submitted today, the government has consulted with civil society organizations who themselves have coordinated to raise their own concerns.”

UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW (UPR)

The first four-year review exercise of all 193 UN member states began in April 2008. The records of states are examined using a common mechanism, regardless of their size, wealth, military or political importance. 

The UPR cycle takes place roughly every four years. Switzerland’s first and second reviews took place in May 2008 and October 2012, respectively. The third review began on November 9, 2017.
 
Before each appearance the state under review submits a national report spelling out the steps they have taken to implement accepted recommendations from the first review. This is complemented with a UN report and summary of stakeholder information (NGOs, etc).
 
The review is facilitated by groups comprising of three members of the council, or troikas, which act as rapporteurs. Slovenia, the Philippines and Ghana will supervise the Swiss presentation. 

During the session, an interactive dialogue between the country under review and the council takes place and later a working report is adopted for each country.

The UPR working group will adopt recommendations to Switzerland on November 14. The Swiss authorities will then evaluate what can realistically be implemented; there will then be a consultation period with the cantons, NGOs and public debates.

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