Fundamental and human rights have long been at the heart of Swiss values. Human rights underpin many government activities and also play an increasingly important role in other areas of society such as the economy. Given the growing complexity of human rights issues, it is important that problematic human rights developments affecting the actions of public authorities and the everyday lives of citizens are identified at an early stage and appropriately addressed. However, this requires reliable knowledge, scientific methodology and practical experience.
Against this backdrop, the Federal Council concluded as early as 2009 that additional services were needed in the field of human rights. However, it felt that it would be premature at that time to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with United Nations recommendations (Paris Principles of 1993). Instead, it decided to first set up a Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights (SCHR) as a five-year pilot project. This network of universities and other organisations began operating in 2011 and is funded by the federal government to the tune of CHF 1 million a year through the purchase of services (expertise, studies with practical recommendations, awareness events on topical themes). An evaluation of its activities and outcomes in 2015 found that there was a need for the SCHR’s services.
Building on the pilot project
On the back of the positive results from the pilot project evaluation, the Federal Council has today decided to establish the future national human rights institution in a way that builds on the existing set-up. Creating a national human rights institution that is independent of government and acts as a multifunctional interface and centre of expertise should significantly strengthen and complement Switzerland’s existing human rights architecture. Like the SCHR, the institution is to have strong ties with universities. It will cover current needs in the field of human rights, and thanks to unconditional basic funding from the federal government it will be able to act on its own initiative and deal with the issues that it considers relevant to the fulfilment of its mandate. It will make specific recommendations to public authorities, civil society and the private sector and will provide a platform for interaction between these players and bodies active in the human rights sphere at all levels of the federal structure. It will also be able to take on assignments, thereby safeguarding the status of the national human rights institution as a service provider. A legal basis will be created to ensure unconditional basic funding for the institution. The federal government will continue to provide CHF 1 million annually.
The Federal Council has mandated the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to draw up a consultation draft to this effect by the end of June 2017.
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