Human rights in the context of the United Nations

Conference room of the Palais des Nations, UN, Geneva
The conference room at the Palais des Nations receives many key international figures. UN, Geneva. © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

The Human Rights Section promotes and defends Switzerland's interests within the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies, working closely with other states, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, representatives of civil society and academia.

Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body based in Geneva that is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights at the United Nations. Comprising 47 members, the Council meets in regular session for a total of 10 weeks per year. It may also meet in extraordinary session, as and when necessary, in order to address urgent human rights violations. Working groups established by the Council in relation to a variety of topics meet over the remainder of the year. One of these groups is the Universal Periodic Review process – an innovative mechanism that conbtributes to the regular examination of all member states' human rights records, as well as the formulation and the adoption of recommendations to encourage States to better protect and respect human rights on their territory.

Switzerland was strongly involved in the creation of the Human Rights Council. Switzerland has been a member of this body on three occasions (2006-2009; 2010-2013; 2016-2018) and Vice-President in 2006-2007, 2013 and 2017. Switzerland is involved in all institutional discussions related to the Human Rights Council in order to contribute to its effectiveness and to strengthen the impact of its action. The creation of the Human Rights Council has also made it possible to strengthen International Geneva and its status as the world centre of expertise in the field of human rights.

Diplomatic initiatives and negotiations

Within the Human Rights Council, Switzerland develops diplomatic initiatives in relation to priority areas of its foreign policy, such as the death penalty, transitional justice, the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protest, human rights and environment, human rights in drugs policies, equal pay, and child, early and forced marriage. Switzerland also plays an active role in negotiations on various human rights issues and situations that are the subject of initiatives by other states and identified as priority areas for Switzerland as the protection of human rights defenders, fight against torture,  freedom of expression and violence against women and girls.

Since 2013, Switzerland has been organizing the Glion Human Rights Dialogue with various partners, which has established itself as an informal forum for discussion of governance issues in the area of human rights.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is based in Geneva and is a strategic partner of Switzerland.. Among other tasks, it acts as Secretariat of the Human Rights Council. Switzerland supports the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights financially and politically, and is a firm advocate of the Office's independence. It is in favour of increasing the budget dedicated to the UN's "human rights pillar", a move that would help to enhance the importance of human rights in relation to the other pillars of the UN's work – "peace and security" and "development". Switzerland is also committed to closer cooperation between the three pillars because respect for human rights is the basis for peaceful and prosperous societies.

Civil societies and academia

Switzerland attaches great importance to the work of civil society actors, such as non-governmental organisations, and academic institutions that are active in the area of human rights. It supports civil society participation in the work of the Human Rights Council and ensures that representatives of civil society have the necessary scope to contribute fully to the work of the Council. As such, Switzerland is actively involved in initiatives to fight acts of reprisals of any kind against human rights activists for their involvement in the work of the Human Rights Council and its various mechanisms.