The 43rd session of the Human Rights Council opened on 24 February with its traditional high-level segment, which was also attended by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, representing host state Switzerland. The high-level segment was notably attended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande and around a hundred high-level officials including over 50 ministers of foreign affairs. Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, recalled the central role of human rights in the UN's efforts to promote peace and sustainable development. He stressed that the UN provides platforms – including in the context of International Geneva – that are essential in order to jointly address current challenges such as climate change and digitalisation and their impact on human rights.
Throughout the 43rd session, Switzerland attached particular importance to the defence of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. On behalf of 53 countries, Switzerland and Costa Rica coordinated a joint declaration to this effect recalling that demonstrations are an essential way of exercising these rights. Under no circumstances may authorities respond to demonstrations with repression, including the disproportionate and sometimes lethal use of force, arbitrary arrests, torture or enforced disappearances. Switzerland also commended the important contribution that women human rights defenders make to peace and sustainable development and to combating discrimination and inequalities. It called on all states to promote a safe environment for women human rights defenders.
Regarding the human rights situation in specific countries, Switzerland gave a joint declaration on behalf of the Quadrilateral Group (Austria, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Switzerland) in response to the serious humanitarian situation in Syria, especially in the north-east of the country (Aleppo and Idlib). It also continued to pursue its engagement in the fight against impunity by expressing support for the instruments and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and by calling for investigations into the excessive use of force in the context of demonstrations.
The 43rd session will resume its work at a later date. In the meantime all mandates and activities that were due to expire have been automatically extended and will be formally adopted when the session resumes.
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