Are human rights more than empty promises?

Pro Tibetan activists march on Geneva last month Keystone

Human rights are empty promises if states and international organisations do not have the will to implement them, says Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.

This content was published on April 19, 2008 - 18:25

Calmy-Rey was speaking at the annual meeting of the Swiss section of Amnesty International on Saturday, marking the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sanctions must be imposed on human rights violators "without ceding to economic considerations or those of political opportunism", the foreign minister said, without being more specific.

Calmy-Rey added that the Universal Declaration adopted in 1948 had far-reaching consequences including the redefinition of sovereignty.

She said no state today regardless how influential it was could solve all of its problems without working together with businesses, universities and civil society.

"We have different tasks but common goals," she told Amnesty Switzerland at the meeting in Bern.

"If a state and its institutions are unable to protect their people, then it is the responsibility of the international community to do so, according to the principle adopted last year by the United Nations," she said.

Since the adoption of the Declaration, "no government can claim that the way it treats individuals, religious minorities, ethnic or linguistic groups living on its soil is an internal matter only".

Amnesty Switzerland's secretary-general, Irene Khan, said abuses were still widespread, naming the imprisonment of Buddhist monks in Myanmar, the numerous judges arrested in Pakistan, and the withholding of basic rights from women in many countries.

Geneva institutions

Switzerland has ratified all of the main agreements on the protection of human rights.

Under the United Nations umbrella, the bodies responsible for the protection and development of human rights are the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the new Human Rights Council, both of which are based in Geneva.

However, official Swiss policy towards the protection of human rights has been criticised by non-governmental organisations.

In a report addressed to the UN in February, a coalition of 30 Swiss NGOs said there was a lack of institutional mechanisms in Switzerland to ensure the effective implementation of human rights conventions.

The coalition also accused Switzerland of dragging its feet in setting up a UN national action plan on the human rights conventions.

The foreign ministry responded by saying it was looking into the necessity and benefits of the idea as well as possible models.

In May, the Human Rights Council is due to examine the government's report on conditions in Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

Human Rights Council

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey came up with the concept of the Human Rights Council in March 2004 to replace the UN Human Rights Commission created in 1946.

The UN officially accepted the idea in September 2005.

The first session of the UN Human Rights Council took place in June 2006 at its headquarters in Geneva. The Council reports directly to the UN General Assembly.

It consists of 47 member states, which are selected with absolute majority by the UN General Assembly. It meets at least three times a year and can in addition hold special meetings to discuss crisis situations.

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