US backs Swiss human rights council proposal

Secretary of state Michael Ambühl reaffirmed in Washington Swiss criticism of the situation at Guantanamo Bay Keystone

The United States will support a Swiss proposal to replace the United Nations Human Rights Commission with a permanent Human Rights Council in Geneva.

This content was published on June 15, 2005 - 10:44

Swiss state secretary for foreign affairs Michael Ambühl said the US had confirmed its decision during talks in Washington on closer ties between the two countries.

Part of the discussions focused on the planned reforms of the UN, including the replacement of the human rights commission, which has been widely criticised for failing to act against countries committing obvious abuses.

"Our positions on the main points, such as the extension of the Security Council or the creation of the Human Rights Council, are close," said Ambühl.

The Swiss recently held two rounds of talks in Lausanne with member states of the Human Rights Commission on the creation of the council.

The state secretary added that the Americans were backing Geneva as the home of the new permanent body.

Guantanamo Bay

During talks with senior officials from the department of state and the Pentagon, Ambühl also took the opportunity to remind the US that the Geneva Conventions were applicable to prisoners held on the American base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Many detainees are being held and interrogated as part of the so-called "war on terror" without charges being laid.

"The Americans have understood that as depositary of the Geneva Conventions, we have a different opinion to theirs on the issue of Guantanamo," Ambühl told Swiss radio.

His comments came on the same day that US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that Guantanamo Bay would be needed for years to come and that there was no alternative location for the military prison.

UN security council

The state secretary told swissinfo that Switzerland was also in favour of expanding the UN Security Council to involve more countries. But he said Bern was "not in favour of more nations getting the right to veto".

The US is currently opposed to Germany’s plans to become a permanent member of the council.

The main goal of Ambühl’s trip to Washington was to launch talks on a rapprochement between Switzerland and the US. Last month, the Swiss government decided to encourage and restructure its relationship with the country.

Ambühl said relations between the two countries were excellent, but could still be improved.


Future talks should focus on cooperation in the fields of science, security, politics, and economics.

The Swiss government has charged the economics ministry with initiating a dialogue with the United States aimed at concluding a bilateral free-trade agreement.

Economics minister Joseph Deiss will head to Washington next month for more talks.

Ambühl is optimistic that a accord could be reached, despite the US Congress currently being unfavourable to deals that could see American jobs leave the country. Previous free-trade agreements have led to many companies moving manufacturing to countries where labour is cheaper than in the United States.

"I don’t think this is the same type of situation," the state secretary told swissinfo. "Switzerland and the US are at the same stage of their economic development and the chances of a company delocalising jobs are far slimmer."


In brief

The UN's Human Rights Commission, whose 53 members meet once a year for six weeks, has been criticised for failing to condemn countries that have committed blatant human rights abuses.

Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, presented a plan in April to replace the commission by a permanent council as part of proposed UN reforms.

The new body could have the same status as the Security Council.

Switzerland has proposed Geneva as the headquarters for the new council.

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