Respect, protection, promotion and further development of human rights are the cornerstones of Switzerland's international cooperation. In 2017, Switzerland helped to improve human rights situation in Asia and elsewhere.
Promoting human rights and basic freedoms
Human rights integral to peacebuilding in Nepal
There have been some encouraging developments in the human rights situation in Nepal over the last ten years: a peace agreement in 2006, a new constitution in 2015, the creation of two independent commissions to investigate crimes against humanity committed during the conflict and election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2017. These efforts are important milestones in the road to lasting peace and inclusive societies in which people can live their lives in dignity.
The SDC is assisting Nepal in this process by providing support to the National Human Rights Commission, which has been experiencing a pivotal moment since Nepal's move towards a federal system of government. Promoting human rights is a priority for the SDC, especially in fragile contexts and conflicts. Long-term engagement is decisive for peacebuilding and statebuilding efforts. By failing to respect human rights, countries run the serious risk of a return to violence, the collapse of their institutions or the outbreak of humanitarian crises – but they also jeopardise their development prospects.
A key actor
"If the people who were responsible for my daughter's death are brought to justice, my struggle will give courage to the families of other victims". A father's words bring home the importance of the commission's work in helping vulnerable groups gain access to justice. The independent commission is a key actor in Nepal's human rights architecture. Armed with its investigations, the commission confronts the Nepalese government on its shortcomings and issues recommendations urging it to meet its obligation to uphold the human rights of its own citizens. Regarding the forced disappearances during the conflict, one of the commission's tasks is to conduct an inquiry to press the government to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice and their victims’ families receive reparation. This is crucial for the mourning process in the victims' families and for the transition to national reconciliation.
Alongside other agencies, the SDC has been supporting the efforts of Nepal's human rights commission since 2001 to ensure that Nepalese citizens' rights are respected. In addition to technical assistance, the SDC is supporting the training of commission members and promoting collaboration with other institutions. It was encouraging to see the number of complaints increase by 40% between 2016 and 2017, most of which led to an investigation. The number of cases resulting in a reconciliation increased by over one third. Nevertheless, the commission is struggling to get its recommendations adopted by the authorities and parliament.
Transition to federalism
Nepal is on its way to a federal system having held local, provincial and federal elections in 2017. The eight regional offices opened by the commission ensure better access for the people they support. The challenge for the commission is to adapt its structure to the new legal framework, which is as yet ill-defined, and to engage well with the authorities while responding to growing needs at regional and local level.
Better working conditions
In 2017, SECO stated it would continue to support the Better Work programme for the next four years.
Better Work provides advice and training for companies producing clothes and textiles for export. It encourages companies to improve working conditions and ensure compliance with domestic legislation and international labour standards. Workers are involved in developing solutions, as are government representatives, international organisations and brands and retailers that buy clothes and textiles.
Two million people benefit
Better Work is currently implemented in 1,500 factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Jordan, Nicaragua and Haiti. Together, the factories employ over two million people.
In the affiliated factories, there are far fewer instances of forced labour, gender discrimination and sexual abuse. Meanwhile, better working conditions increase productivity by up to 22%, and workers receive better pay. They are able to take home up to 30% more wages to their families. Moreover, Better Work puts the factories in a position to fulfil the requirements of retailers and the global garment trade.
More and better work
Better Work is an International Labour Organization (ILO) programme. Switzerland has been supporting the programme since 2007 and has earmarked CHF 12 million to contribute to the programme’s efforts in Asia – especially with partner countries Indonesia and Vietnam – until 2021.
Preventing domestic violence in Tajikistan
Switzerland is helping Tajikistan in the prevention of domestic violence by supporting legal reforms and nationwide awareness campaigns.
Some 70% of women in Tajikistan have experienced domestic violence at some time in their lives. Conservative attitudes towards gender roles are largely to blame. Police and the justice system also tend to take the side of the husband's family, failing to adequately protect victims of domestic violence. Preventing Domestic Violence is a Swiss project to raise awareness in Tajikistan of the problem of domestic violence. In addition, it helps to create framework conditions at local and national level that enable perpetrators to be held to account and offer victims more protection and support.
The SDC has been working on this issue in Tajikistan since 1999, with encouraging results. In 2013, Tajikistan passed legislation to prevent domestic violence, also thanks to Switzerland's support. More than 4,000 victims of domestic violence have received psychological and legal support from one of the centres supported by an SDC partner project. Since 2013, over 95% of court rulings have favoured the victim in domestic violence cases. Public awareness of different forms of domestic abuse has also increased from 36.6% (2009) to 60.9% (2015).