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

Human Rights Council

Through the Human Rights Section of its Geneva Mission, Switzerland participates actively in the work of the Human Rights Council – the Geneva-based intergovernmental body that is primarily 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 devoted to the Universal Periodic Review process – an innovative mechanism that involves regular reviews of all member states' human rights situations, resulting in recommendations to encourage governments to do more to protect and respect human rights in their respective countries.

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, as well as the right to privacy in the digital age. 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.

Switzerland put a lot of effort into the creation of the Human Rights Council in 2006 and is still committed on a daily basis to ensuring that the Council remains an effective and relevant body in the fight against human rights violations. The country held the vice-presidency of the Human Rights Council in 2006 and 2013. Switzerland’s third term of Council membership will run from January 2016 to the end of 2018.

High Commissioner for Human Rights

The High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, both based in Geneva, also count among Switzerland's strategic partners. The various tasks of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights include acting as Secretariat of the Human Rights Council. Switzerland supports the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in financial and political terms, 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".

Non-governmental organisations

Switzerland attaches great importance to the work of non-governmental organisations 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 stop representatives of sovereign states from engaging in reprisals of any kind against human rights activists for their involvement in the work of the Human Rights Council and its various mechanisms.