"Preventing Conflicts through the Mainstreaming of Human Rights" (en)

Bern, 21.09.2016 - New York, 21.09.2016 - Ansprache von Bundesrat Didier Burkhalter am Side-Event "Preventing Conflicts through the Mainstreaming of Human Rights" am Rande der 71. UNO-Generalversammlung - Es gilt das gesprochene Wort

Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this side event on ‘Preventing Conflicts through the Mainstreaming of Human Rights’. I am honoured to host this event together with my colleague Frank-Walter Steinmeier and to welcome the members of our distinguished panel.

Germany initiated the discussion on how to better align the work of the Security Council and the Human Rights Council with a side event during last year’s high-level week.

Today, we are building on this discussion – and we are strengthening the fruitful cooperation between Germany and Switzerland on this crucial issue. I look forward to continuing and deepening this collaboration and to jointly improving our understanding of the nexus between peace and security and human rights with a view to strengthening conflict prevention.

Two key reflections have led to the organisation of this event:

- First, human rights are under pressure. The statement made a week ago by High Commissioner Zeid at the opening of the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council again provided testimony that human rights violations are a widespread reality. He also shared his concern about the growing refusal on the part of an increasing number of Member States to grant the OHCHR, or the human rights mechanisms, access. This illustrates that the universality of human rights and the instruments we built to protect them are being questioned.

- Second, our world remains plagued by violent conflict and fragility. Conflicts have been on the rise again in the past few years; and, most worryingly, attacks perpetrated by governments and armed groups against civilians are rising too.

The parallel occurrence of these two phenomena is not a coincidence. Peace and security, development, and human rights are interlinked. Already the UN Charter  defined these three areas as the major pillars of the organisation.

Given the two challenges mentioned above, the nexus between peace and security and human rights is particularly relevant. The World Development Report 2011 specifically dealt with the question of how to go beyond fragility and conflict to ensure development and economic stability.

According to that report, each one-step deterioration on the Political Terror Scale  results in a more than twofold increase in the risk of civil war in the subsequent year.

Human rights violations can be precursors and causes of conflict. And such violations are indicators of potential instability or escalation of a conflict. Such violations are a warning light that is too often ignored.

In other words, information on human rights is relevant for our efforts “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, in the words of the Charter.

In order to address the double challenge of human rights violations and conflicts we must become better at preventing conflict. The recent review processes on the UN’s peace and security pillar confirmed this.

The Human Rights Council is currently celebrating its 10-year anniversary. This is an opportunity and – given the current challenges – also an obligation. It is an obligation to strengthen the link between human rights and peace and security. In our view the Human Rights Council has an underexploited potential to contribute to conflict prevention and we urgently need to tap into it.

Therefore Switzerland launched the “Appeal of 13 June  to put human rights at the heart of conflict prevention”. The appeal, currently supported by 70 states, is a pledge to intensify the nexus between the United Nations’ three pillars in order to strengthen conflict prevention.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need to reflect and to act on two areas in order to strengthen human rights and to put them at the centre of prevention:

- The first area concerns the availability of information regarding human rights situations and how this information is dealt with.
- The second area concerns the capacity of the UN to react to such information and to address specific situations in an adequate way.

In Switzerland’s view, human rights information is highly relevant for the work of the Security Council. I see great potential in closer collaboration between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council.

In the Appeal of 13 June we propose concrete measures:

- Regular briefings by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Security Council (requested by Security Council members);
- More systematic use of human rights reports by the Security Council (brought to the attention of the council by the Secretary-General).

Information on human rights and human rights violations is essential. But this is just a first step. The availability of relevant human rights information will not help us to prevent conflicts if we do not have the political will as well as adequate resources to act. Member States have developed solid tools to address situations of conflict – namely Human Rights Council Special Procedures and UN Peace Operations. Yet, these instruments will only be effective if the UN system has sufficient and adequate resources to implement the respective mandates.

Switzerland sees need for action in this regard. While UN Peace Operations are relatively well resourced, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights receives a comparatively low share of regular budget resources. We must therefore ensure that an adequate proportion of the UN budget is allocated to strengthening the mainstreaming of human rights in the whole UN system.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The prevention of conflict and the strengthening of human rights are and remain Swiss foreign policy priorities. We are currently a member of the Human Rights Council and will use all available means to strengthen conflict prevention through our membership.  

We are also firmly committed to the UN’s work in the area of peacebuilding and sustaining peace which, in our view, provides a particularly promising window of opportunity to strengthen comprehensive and preventive approaches to situations of conflict and fragility.

Switzerland is a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council (2023/24).  Our bid underlines Switzerland’s commitment to matters of peace and security and, with a view to preventing conflict, to work on the nexus between peace and security and human rights.

Preventing conflicts by better integrating human rights concerns is a complex challenge but the main ingredient for success is quite simple: political will. Switzerland is firmly committed to putting human rights at the heart of conflict prevention, as the appeal calls for, and to thereby strengthen conflict prevention.

But we cannot succeed alone. It is therefore a pleasure to work alongside partners such as Germany. I call upon all of you present here to join our efforts and make this a common endeavour to transform conflict into lasting peace. And I encourage those states that have not yet done so to sign up to our Appeal of 13 June.

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