UN Human Rights Council in Geneva – Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis quotes Nobel laureate Elias Canetti: "The hardest thing is to keep rediscovering what you already know"

Press release, 24.02.2020

In 2019 the world reflected on 100 years of multilateralism in Geneva, where the focus has been on the fundamental rights and dignity of the individual. In 2020 the UN will celebrate its 75th anniversary. It too sees in its Charter the strengthening of human rights as a prerequisite for peace and sustainable development. Reaffirming, promoting and defending these values is a task for all of us, said Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis at the opening of the spring session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 24 February 2020.

While fundamental rights emerged after the First World War as the means to prevent further conflicts, they took on even greater significance after the Second World War, which regrettably could not be averted. Fundamental rights were recognised as instruments of peace by the international community when the UN was founded in 1945 and, together with security and sustainability, have proven to be the cornerstones of the rule of law to this day. Switzerland has enshrined respect for human rights and the requirement of democracy in its Federal Constitution (Article 54). These principles are therefore an essential component of Swiss foreign policy. With human rights coming under pressure in so many parts of the world, it is vital to protect them. "We are all called upon to reaffirm, protect and defend these fundamental rights," said FDFA Head Ignazio Cassis at the opening of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, referring to the UN Charter, in which the protection of human rights plays a central role. The HRC is tasked with addressing human rights violations and making recommendations and is the most important international institution in this field. Switzerland has supported it since it was founded in 2006.

Human rights implementation cannot simply be taken for granted

In his opening speech, Mr Cassis reaffirmed Switzerland's commitment. Representing the host state, he referred to the UN's pivotal role as an international cooperation framework to ensure the protection and well-being of all people. He noted that the three pillars on which the UN is based – peace and security, development, and human rights – should not be taken for granted. Indeed, human rights cannot be taken for granted and all countries must play an active role so that the younger generations also appreciate their importance. To illustrate his point, Mr Cassis quoted the words of Nobel laureate Elias Canetti: "The hardest thing is to keep rediscovering what you already know".

Political discussions alongside the human rights session

Mr Cassis also capitalised on his participation in the opening of the Human Rights Council session to hold a number of bilateral talks. He met with UN Secretary General António Guterres to discuss the status of the Palais des Nations renovation project and afterwards visited the construction site. He also held one-to-one meetings with the foreign ministers of Côte d'Ivoire, Marcel Amon-Tanoh, and Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Tleuberdi. A particularly fruitful exchange was held with Ali Bagheri Kani, Deputy for International Affairs of the Judiciary of Iran and Secretary of the High Council for Human Rights. Together with his counterparts from Germany (Heiko Maas) and France (Jean-Yves Le Drian) at the meeting of the Alliance for Multilateralism, Mr Cassis discussed the need to strengthen the rules-based international order.


Further information:

Opening of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council - Speech by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis
Dossier FDFA

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