Update: 07.01.2015

Recommendations for the implementation of Swiss guidelines for human rights defenders

The declared aim of the Swiss guidelines for human rights defenders is to standardise and enhance the cooperation with foreign human rights defenders. Approximately one year after their publication, the Swiss Centre for Peacebuilding (KOFF) has now presented a study about the opportunities and challenges encountered during the implementation of the Swiss guidelines. The resulting recommendations are addressed to the Swiss diplomatic representations abroad and to the national authorities as well as to NGOs. The study is a follow-up to an international NGO conference on the actual implementation of the guidelines that took place in Bern in June 2014 (cf. the German article «Was sind die Schweizer Leitlinien für Menschenrechtsverteidiger/innen wert?»)

Recommendations to Swiss representations abroad

The KOFF gives five specific policy recommendations to Swiss representations abroad, mainly to embassies. They range from the accentuation of a context-specific implementation of these guidelines to the calling for public support of the work of human rights defenders by Swiss representations in order to counteract their stigmatisation and criminalisation.

For a successful implementation of the guidelines it is vital to conduct an analysis of country-specific social and political systems as well as a debate on the actual human rights issues a country faces. The Swiss representations abroad should actively network with international and multinational organisations as well as with other state representations to obtain relevant information on the subject. In addition, the guidelines can only develop their full potential if they are translated into the most important local languages and are made known to the relevant actors through information and awareness-raising.

Projects that aim at providing better protection for human rights defenders could be directly financed by Swiss embassies. Priority should be given to local initiatives that support the role of civil society.

Recommendations to the authorities in Bern

The KOFF also focuses on the role of the authorities in Bern and gives three main recommendations to the Confederation.

Enhanced protection for human rights defenders can only be achieved if this aim is made part of Swiss foreign policy and if subsequently the necessary financial and human resources are made available. Furthermore, the guidelines as an instrument need to be flexible, so that they can live up to the ever-changing circumstances and working conditions of human rights defenders. This involves regular contacts between Swiss authorities and Swiss NGOs that accompany the implementation of the guidelines and could contribute to their continuous improvement.

To round off, the KOFF suggests starting pilot projects with the necessary funding in a number of countries and calls to continue with further programmes based on the resulting knowledge.

Recommendations to civil society actors

The question of how civil society actors can contribute to a successful implementation of the guidelines is just as essential as the issue of the responsibility of state representatives.

The recommendations call for increased cooperation between local and international NGOs and better information exchange between civil society and governmental actors.

In addition, the KOFF asks civil society organisations to participate actively in the implementation process of the guidelines and to engage with the state actors.

Context-specific implementations and recommendations

The KOFF study discusses country-specific challenges and recommendations for the implementation of the guidelines based on the general recommendations to government missions abroad, authorities in Bern and civil society actors. The focus lies on Guatemala, Honduras, Serbia, Russia and Sri Lanka.

There are some similarities between the context-specific recommendations. For example, Swiss representations abroad should publicly voice support for the work of human rights defenders. Furthermore, foreign policy should in general be designed more coherently so that human rights issues can be addressed in each policy field.

At the same time the KOFF underlines the differences between the various countries and the resulting specific challenges. In the case of Serbia, for example, cooperation with multilateral organisations such as the OSCE as well as the setting up of a civil society working group on human rights defenders are at the centre of attention.

The recommendations for Guatemala and Honduras focus on the cooperation with indigenous communities and call for the local Swiss representations to build a network to prevent human rights defenders being exposed to danger and, at the same time, develop a strategic plan for their long-term protection.

Recommendations with regard to Russia focus on various approaches to increase political pressure for better protection of human rights defenders. These range from taking part in court cases to calling for an award by the Swiss embassy for Russian human rights defenders in order to enhance the legitimacy of their work.

In the case of Sri Lanka the most important recommendations seem to be the translation of the guidelines into Tamil and Sinhala and the inclusion of the Tamil diaspora into the protective measures. There is also a need for clarification regarding the Swiss policy on the issuing of humanitarian visas on the one hand and the future cooperation with Sri Lanka in general on the other hand.

Goodwill alone is not enough

Whether or not Switzerland advances in an exemplary manner with regard to its guidelines for the protection of human rights defenders can only be judged based on the results of their implementation. The study concludes that the implementation of the guidelines can only be successful if it is performed context-specific and coherently and if it is accompanied by a continuous dialogue between government actors, local human rights defenders and international NGOs.


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