Didier Burkhalter opens the session of the Human Rights Council

Bern, 27.02.2012 - Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), opened on Monday the 19th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva. In his first speech to the Council, he appealed to the Syrian authorities to end immediately the use of force and other repressive measures against civilians. The situation in Syria is the main item on the agenda of this session of the Human Rights Council. On this occasion, Mr Burkhalter met several of his counterparts currently in Geneva, including the foreign ministers of France, Alain Juppé, and of Iran, Mr Ali Akbar Salehi.

In his opening speech, the head of the FDFA stressed that the violence in Syria was increasing at an alarming rate and resulting in the deaths of many civilians including numerous children. He condemned in the strongest possible terms the human rights violations committed in Syria. In addition, he asked the Syrian authorities to allow humanitarian actors to have access to affected population groups and to be able to work without hindrance. Mr Burkhalter went on to say that Switzerland supported in particular the proposal of the ICRC to implement a humanitarian pause, and asked the government in Damascus to co-operate fully with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria of the Human Rights Council. Furthermore, he welcomed the efforts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the President of the UN General Assembly, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Arab League to put an end to the repression in Syria, and reminded the Council of Switzerland’s willingness to give its full support to all efforts to this end.

Mr Burkhalter made a positive assessment of the work of the Human Rights Council to date, adding that that the protection and dissemination of human rights were core values of Switzerland, a country committed to fundamental freedoms. He argued that respect for human rights was an international obligation and that if a State was unable or unwilling to meet the commitments it had undertaken in this respect then the international community must act. "Ultimately, we are no longer confronted with a choice but with an obligation", he said. Finally, Mr Burkhalter assured the Council that Switzerland would continue to be a reliable partner and remain committed to ensuring that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be able to act with strength and independence.

The Head of the FDFA also took the opportunity offered by the presence of many other Foreign Ministers in Geneva to establish contacts, discuss the main current international issues, and discuss a number of bilateral matters. In this context, he met the following foreign ministers: Alain Juppé (France), Ali Akbar Salehi (Iran), Basile Ikouebe (Republic of Congo), Mourad Medelci (Algeria), Ruslan Kazakbaev (Kyrgyzstan) and Yerzhan Kazykhanov (Kazakhstan).

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs