Update: 08.08.2018

2030 Agenda: Gap between assessment and Swiss country report

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been in force since January 2016. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda by the UN General Assembly in 2015 was generally perceived as a breakthrough. The Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are interlinked, and 169 concrete objectives. It is a global framework that affects all states. The Agenda expresses the international community’s need for communal steps towards global development until 2030 to preserve our planet and guarantee a dignified life for coming generations. Switzerland was actively involved in developing the 2030 Agenda. Where does it stand in the implementation of the agenda?

Country report by the Federal Council

On 20 June 2018, the Federal Council adopted the country report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. On 17 July 2018, Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard presented it to the UN in New York. By organising a widely spread consultation process on all objectives and various forums, the Confederation had raised public expectations.

The result is a thin 28-page document. Single sub-targets were briefly evaluated along with each Sustainable Development Goal. There are large gaps that were not listed in the report and are not covered by specific action plans, priorities, measures and instruments for implementation. All that remains are vague commitments and references to existing strategies and policies.

In the Federal Council’s report, the targets have a silo mentality and do not take a holistic approach to global sustainable development. The Federal Council reached the conclusion that “Switzerland has already achieved a lot.”

At present, the 2030 Agenda is vaguely being called an “orientation framework,” rather than a vision or obligation, as was the case during earlier drafts by the Confederation. The expression “orientation framework” is now synonymous with what previous drafts described as “the time to put our words into action.” According to media reports, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis has pushed to greatly limit and weaken the report.

Few connections to human rights

In the Federal Council’s preamble, it says that the 2030 Agenda “is not a legally binding framework.” The country report states several times that Switzerland is in favour of respecting human rights. However, the report fails to mention that the 2030 Agenda mainly consists of existing human rights obligations and does not talk about how to implement them. “Human rights” is an empty phrase in the report.

Assessment by the Confederation and monitoring by the Federal Statistical Office

Surprisingly enough, only a couple of days after it published the country report, the Confederation also published a more detailed assessment, which had been used as the basis for the country report. This ex post publication probably happened due to pressure form the civil society Platform Agenda 2030 and discussions in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council.

The assessment calls the 2030 Agenda a global reference framework. It states that Switzerland backs the main targets of this framework, in particular the need to secure natural resources for all people under fair conditions and to ensure human rights for all. The assessment mainly focuses on the implementation status of all 17 targets of the 2030 Agenda in Switzerland. The explanations are more extensive, more nuanced and generally more critical than in the country report.

Unlike the country report, which talks of “political coherence for sustainable development,” the assessment points out areas of tension between economic, social, and environmental aspects as well as between national policies and international agreements. The assessment also discusses the effects of Swiss politics on other countries in the fields of resource consumption and raw materials policy, financial centres and unlawful financial flows, and competitiveness in businesses versus human rights and environmental standards. A sustainability assessment, a legal instrument that has not been widely used so far, is mentioned several times, as is the long tradition of cooperation between state and non-state actors. Position statements from organisations in the economic, public, and scientific sectors have also been added to the assessment as annexes.

The 2030 Agenda in Switzerland is monitored by the indicator system MONET, which was developed and enhanced by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). This system provides an important basis for the assessment and the country report. But in the FSO’s view, the interim result drawn from the same data is different to the one provided by the Federal Council (“Switzerland has already achieved a lot”). The FSO considers the development of the various indicators to “be differently advanced” and to be “at times contradictory.” Addressing the SDG 1 “No poverty” the FSO says that the “indicator ‘poverty quota’ shows no significant change, although the poverty quota should actually be lowered within the meaning of sustainable development.”

Human rights dimension of the 2030 Agenda

The survey on SDG 10, “Reduce inequalities,” recognises the importance of promoting equal opportunities and fighting discrimination. “Protecting discriminated groups, promoting human rights, and ensuring economic, social, cultural, and political inclusion, especially of ethnic and religious minorities” are at the centre of Swiss international cooperation. It furthers the “universal ratification of existing human rights conventions and commits itself to aligning the legal framework with current and future requirements, closing gaps in international law and further implementing human rights.”

When it comes to business and human rights, the Federal Council supports “a smart mix of non-binding legal and complementary requirements as needed, as well as national and international measures.” Referring to arms exports, the assessment states that “the great lack of transparency in international arms trafficking is an enormous challenge, since Swiss arms have repeatedly found their way to warring parties in civil wars or to terrorists.”

Civil society report

On 3 July 2018, the civil society “Platform Agenda 2030” published its report “Wie nachhaltig ist die Schweiz? Die Umsetzung der Agenda 2030 aus Sicht der Zivilgesellschaft” (How sustainable is Switzerland: implementing the 2030 Agenda from a public perspective). Platform Agenda 2030, which first addressed a wider public with the publication of this report, includes over 40 Swiss civil society organisations from the areas of development cooperation, labour and human rights, environmental protection, gender, peace, and sustainable business. The eighty-page report includes eleven joint demands as well as contributions from NGO experts on various issues. The platform calls for the respect of borders and human rights and requests sufficient resources to implement global and national measures, to firmly anchor the 2030 Agenda within the Federal Administration, to align legislation with the 2030 Agenda, and to strengthen the political coherence of sustainable development, including human rights.

2030 Agenda for human rights

The civil society platform’s third request focuses on human rights: the 2030 Agenda must be implemented in accordance with basic rights and international human rights conventions to which Switzerland is bound and accountable under international law. The Confederation must ensure appropriate coherence and standardisation. There is a particular need for action in terms of human rights for disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Switzerland must also ensure that Swiss companies respect human rights at home and abroad.

The report also systematically refers to human rights responsibilities in specific topical fields that Switzerland should focus on, such as equality for people with disabilities, foreign economic policy, and tax issues. The chapter on policy coherence ends with the following recommendation: “the 2030 Agenda is deeply rooted in human and environmental rights obligations. Switzerland must thus base its implementation of the 2030 Agenda on basic rights and its international obligations and must coordinate its reporting procedures."

Commentary

Switzerland strongly committed itself to developing the 2030 Agenda on a UN level and had an effect on it. However, its country report on implementing the 2030 Agenda in Switzerland is vastly different from its global commitment. In contrast to the Confederation’s own survey and the results of the FSO’s monitoring system, Switzerland has pruned its UN country report in a scandalous manner and whitewashed its own accomplishments. The report no longer reflects the dramatic global situation and the initial dynamism of the 2030 Agenda. Civil society organisations that did so much preliminary work on the Swiss country report feel like they were not taken seriously.

The 2030 Agenda and its binding contents must not be diluted, as the Federal Council suggested in its non-binding orientation framework. The assessment, not the country report, highlights what is also clear to parts of the Federal Administration: the 2030 Agenda must always be viewed as a human rights agenda.

This was underscored during the international Wilton Park Conference in January 2018 on Human Rights in the 2030 Agenda: Challenges and Opportunities. The conference was co-financed and co-organised by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. But the Federal Council has yet to drawn the same conclusions as this conference, which recommends human rights be systemically linked with sustainable global development. The Wilton Park Conference suggests that the UN Universal Periodic Review and the human rights country reports should be connected with the 2030 Agenda in individual states. Data must be made mutually accessible, as well as indicators for the review of how the targets are implemented. This should also be noted in the states’ reporting before the UN on the 2030 Agenda.

The Federal Council’s report makes no specific statements on this topic. All suggestions for a strong institutional anchoring of the 2030 Agenda have been rejected on a federal level.

One UN indicator for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is to create a national human rights institution. According to the assessment, Switzerland strongly supports the creation of such institutions internationally. The Federal Council has yet to create such an institution. By presenting a respective bill, the Federal Council could take an important step towards creating an independent and greatly admired institution within the framework of the 2030 Agenda. There are many inconsistencies between what Switzerland preaches and how it acts in the world with respect to human rights and sustainable development.

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