Update: 14.11.2018

Creation of a Human Rights Institution in Switzerland – the state of affairs

For many years now, the United Nations (UN) has underlined the necessity of national human rights institutions which are of key importance for the implementation of international human rights standards on a national level. Today there are 77 national human rights institutions worldwide, 27 of which are in Europe and all of which have been awarded the A label by the International Coordinating Committee ICC.

A never-ending story

It was as far back as July 2001 that 100 NGOs, trade unions, church organisations and important personalities called for the creation of a national human rights institution in Switzerland. On 10 December 2001 National Councillor Vreni Müller-Hemmi and Eugen David, member of the Council of States, submitted a parliamentary initiative in both chambers of Parliament calling for the creation of a federal human rights commission.

After numerous clarifications and discussions the Federal Council decided in summer 2009 that a university service centre was to be established before creating a national human rights institution. Only after a 4 to 5-year long pilot phase should a decision be taken on whether or not the temporary service centre was to be transformed into a real national human rights institution.

SCHR pilot phases I and II

The Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights (SCHR) was founded on 6 May 2011 after a tendering procedure. The SCHR pilot phase finished in late 2015. The SCHR service centre lacked the key feature of a national human rights institution - complete independence.

Based on an evaluation of the SCHR’s work, the Federal Council decided on 1 July 2015 to prolong the operation of the SCHR on the previous basis for a maximum of five more years. The Federal Council delayed the decision on whether or not to create an independent human rights institution for at least half a year.

Fundamental decision by the Federal Council

On 29 June 2016, the Federal Council finally decided to create a legal basis for a national human rights institution. The Federal Administration was commissioned to draw up a consultation bill by June 2017. Even if the legislative process runs smoothly, the earliest a final decision by both chambers of Parliament can be expected late 2019.

Consultation bill

On 28 June 2017, the Federal Council sent the preliminary draft of an act for consultation that, if accepted, will serve as a basis for a future human rights institution. The consultation period ended on 31 October 2017. An initial examination of the feedback shows mixed results.

Additional loop

Instead of submitting the final bill to parliament as a dispatch in the summer of 2018, Federal Councillor Cassis postponed the act for further clarification in August 2018. There is a risk that Cassis may prefer an option without a legal basis. This would ruin all the preliminary work that has been done.

The Paris Principles

A national human rights institution has to comply with the Paris Principles adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993. It must have a legal basis, a comprehensive mandate, sufficient infrastructure and financing, guaranteed independence vis à vis the government, pluralistic representation of social forces as well as accessibility for particularly vulnerable groups.

A model for Switzerland

The Swiss NGO Platform Human Rights adopted a model for an independent Swiss human rights institution (CH-MRI) which is supported by 84 organisations. The model outlines the minimal requirements for a CH-MRI and defines briefly and precisely its functions, competences and organisational structure.

Arguments in favour of a Swiss human rights institution

There is little clarity in politics, the administration and amongst the public on the effects that human rights treaties ratified by Switzerland have on the respective areas of life and on political action. Switzerland, too, has problematic legal provisions and practices and even human rights violations which mainly affect the weakest groups in our society (physically impaired persons, children, single mothers, asylum seekers, undocumented aliens, etc).

The cantons are responsible for many human rights issues (e.g. in the areas of education, healthcare, police, penal system). An independent human rights institution provides recommendations to the relevant authorities and advises them regarding their implementation.

For many years now the promotion of human rights has been an important area of Swiss foreign politics. A national institution to promote the implementation of human rights in Switzerland helps to strengthen the credibility of Swiss human rights policies.

After various international human rights bodies have repeatedly invited Switzerland to create an independent human rights institution the Federal Council has officially accepted the recommendations listed in the last "Universal Periodic Review" after consultation with the cantons. By doing so the Federal Council has subsequently committed itself to promoting the creation of an independent human rights institution in Switzerland.

 

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