Update: 12.09.2012

Switzerland and its support for defenders of human rights

Switzerland supports the better protection of persons whose lives are at risk because of their efforts for the furtherance of human rights on a UN level and by backing international projects. In view of the in part massive threat of the lives of human rights defenders abroad, supporting the defenders within Switzerland seems to be less urgent a task.

The foreign policy aspect

The responsibility for the protection of human rights defenders in foreign policy lies on a federal level with the Human Security Division of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). The FDFA is convinced that the existing human rights instruments at the UN level are sufficient enough to provide adequate protection for human rights and defenders, and considers it important to support those persons who champion the implementation of international norms and instruments, as states Martina Schmidt in charge of human rights activism at the Human Security Division. It is for this reason that Switzerland actively supports the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. In its work for the protection of human rights defenders the Human Security Division also cooperates with internationally active project partners.

Projects on an international level

Such a partner is the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) who, in 2001, launched a sponsorship project in which public characters provided their renown for concrete actions for the protection of human rights defenders. The project is based on the idea that the biggest possible number of persons should know about the actions of a particular human rights defender, because public opinion is the only measure against the arbitrary acts of force of a state. OMCT is in contact with numerous local NGOs and selected human rights defenders. Should one of these persons be threatened, the Organisation approaches a sponsor for a specific campaign or a solidarity mission. In 2010, for example, Swiss politician and lawyer Dick Marty and the internationally renowned clown Dimitri accompanied the OMCT to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they met Justine Masika Bihamba, who supports victims of sexual violence in North Kivu under very dangerous conditions. Accompanied by a film team, Dimitri and Dick Marty talked to government representatives, human rights defenders and victims. Subsequently, the film was shown to a wider public in Zurich in the presence of Justine Bihamba, UN High Commissioner Navi Pilay and Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss Foreign Minister at the time.

Swiss principles for the protection of human rights defenders

The FDFA puts great emphasis on the sensitisation of Swiss embassies for human rights defenders issues. It is for this reason that within the Human Security Division the idea of Swiss guidelines for the protection of human rights defenders is taking shape, which are to substantiate the Swiss dedication to human rights defenders. Civil society is to be consulted on the topic this autumn.



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