Swiss hope to land seat on new UN rights body

Will Switzerland be among the new members of the new human rights body? Keystone

Switzerland says it is hoping to be elected to the new Human Rights Council when the United Nations General Assembly picks the 47 members on Tuesday.

This content was published on May 9, 2006 minutes

Swiss diplomats have spent the past month vigorously campaigning for a seat among UN members, who will choose from 64 countries.

"Nothing is guaranteed, but I am relatively optimistic," senior Swiss diplomat Ulrich Lehner told swissinfo. "Switzerland has a strong case to put to the 191 members of the General Assembly."

"We represent diversity compared with seven out of the nine western candidates, who are part of the European Union," added Lehner.

"We are also reminding nations of our long-standing commitment to the defence of human rights and to the creation of the council, not forgetting our role as mediators on the international stage."

The council, which is due to sit for the first time in Geneva on June 19, stems from a Swiss initiative.

Alain Bovard, a legal expert at the Swiss branch of Amnesty International, highlighted the importance of the electoral process.

"It is a first: most of the candidates declared themselves early and have campaigned to be elected," he said. "They must make commitments to support the council and to respect human rights both at home and abroad."


As part of its candidacy, Switzerland made around 20 pledges relating to the work of the council and other UN bodies active in the field of human rights, as well as the promotion of human rights in Switzerland and around the world.

The Swiss government, for example, has promised to adopt a number of international treaties or additional protocols that it has not already ratified.

"In their submissions, most of the candidates make note of what they have already achieved in this domain. But a minority, including Switzerland, go further by talking about future actions," said Bovard.

"This means we will be able to call them to account if these promises aren't met. For this reason we regret that the government did not mention the creation of a national human rights body, which is of crucial importance for Switzerland."

Black marks

Amnesty, which has compiled reports on all the candidates, has also given black marks to the Swiss for the planned introduction of tough new laws on foreigners and asylum. The legislation was approved by parliament in December but is being challenged in a nationwide vote.

That said, Switzerland – if elected – will have its human rights record closely scrutinised as all council members face "peer reviews".

The prospect of such a review has already scared off certain countries with grim rights records, such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Libya, according to Adrien-Claude Zoller, director of Geneva for Human Rights. Their presence and performance within the former Human Rights Commission largely contributed to that institution's demise.

But the future Human Rights Council is unlikely to be a "good boys' club". The Geneva-based non-governmental organisation, UN Watch, has criticised the candidacies of Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Iran and Russia, claiming their election would sully the credibility of the new body.

Other human rights defenders, however, believe that the election of these nations could help victims as their governments would have to submit to regular reviews.

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

The UN General Assembly will elect the 47 members of the Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Switzerland is one of 65 candidates.

Countries need an absolute majority of the full UN membership – 96 votes – to win election to the council. Switzerland is seeking one of the seven seats allocated to western Europe.

The new body is set to sit for the first time in Geneva on June 19. It will meet at least three times a year, with the possibility of holding emergency sessions.

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