Switzerland launches the appeal of June 13th to put Human Rights at the Heart of Conflict Prevention: “Security and human rights make a perfect match"

Geneva, 13.06.2016 - Address by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter at the opening of the Human Rights Council’s June session – Check against delivery

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

First of all, let me say that Switzerland condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist acts that struck Orlando yesterday, and extends its sincere condolences to the families and relatives of the victims of this tragedy. We must continue our fight and prevent terrorism in order to defend our citizens and our freedoms.

The Human Rights Council is ten years old. Now is the time to give it a new dimension and to listen to it even more closely. Today, June 13th, my country, Switzerland, has chosen to launch an appeal to the international community, to all of you. We call for a strengthening of the links between human rights, development and peace and security. We issue a call to bring these pillars of the UN closer together and to improve the links between Geneva and New York – between human rights and security. This is how we can make true progress in our shared ability to prevent war and suffering.

I will return to this appeal of June 13th, but let us first look back. In the first 10 years of its existence, the Human Rights Council has come a long way. When the Human Rights Council opened its first session ten years ago almost to the day, Switzerland and Geneva were happy and honoured to welcome you to this essential milestone. Today, we still feel the same way whenever we can extend a warm welcome to you in this city dedicated to human rights.

Why? Because the creation of the Human Rights Council has enabled the revitalisation of the action of the United Nations with regard to human rights. This Council is, first and foremost, a place for dialogue and exchange in order to gain a better understanding of each other; it has, furthermore, become an instrument which is ready to react to any crisis occurring anywhere in the world.

Human rights successes are the result of the tireless efforts of individual citizens around the world to demand recognition of their rights. The success of the Human Rights Council is also a result of this engagement, as well as that of the Member States and of those who believe in this institution. It is in particular the result of the efforts of the first ten presidencies of the Council, which, in a kind of relay race with the support of the High Commissioner’s Office, have developed its functioning step by step.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), for example, has become a driving force for advancing human rights on a universal scale. The Special Procedures have become the eyes and ears of the Council.

The past ten years have proven that this Council is capable of being highly responsive to human rights violations and to tackling new issues resulting from societal change. Despite all the qualities of this Council, ten years have not been enough – actually far from enough – to significantly advance the respect for human rights: human rights violations continue to be a widespread reality – especially in fragile contexts and in failing or authoritarian states.

In other words, the Human Rights Council can serve peace and security in the long run only if it contributes to winning the fight for respect for human rights. Human rights violations and a lack of guarantees for fundamental freedoms for all individuals are indicators that peace and security are at risk. Furthermore, the most egregious human rights violations often happen in situations of armed conflict, when civilian populations, including women and children, become targets of suffering.

Therefore, why wait? Why not listen better to the human rights message? Why not understand that this message is addressed to us, the nations that stand united, that this message is an early warning? A warning to prevent conflicts; to prevent these sufferings.

In fact, peace, security and human rights go hand in hand.

For the next decade, we will need a Human Rights Council which is not only able to respond, but also able to anticipate and to better contribute to conflict prevention and, thereby, to promote peace and security.

In doing so, we are concretising an intention that has existed for a long time already. Our forebears created the Organisation of the United Nations with the vision that peace, security, development and human rights are inherently linked; that these pillars of the world are crucial for the future of humankind. Today, we have the opportunity to make their vision a reality.

How can we achieve this? How can we strengthen the impact of the Human Rights Council in the field? We could start by giving the Council a new dimension in the architecture of the United Nations. For this reason, Switzerland - supported by 63 states - is launching an appeal today: the appeal of June 13th, calling for putting human rights at the heart of conflict prevention. 

Within the current institutional setting, the appeal calls for three concrete measures:

- First, enhance cooperation between the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. In particular, we call on the members of the Human Rights Council to ask the Secretary-General to bring to the attention of the Security Council decisions and reports of the Human Rights Council relevant to conflict prevention;

- Second, strengthen conflict prevention through a better use of available information. In many cases, relevant information is not shared in due time or is not taken into consideration. We invite the members of the Security Council to request regular briefings by the High Commissioner for Human Rights; its information base for informed decisions must comprise reports of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, including commissions of inquiry, in order to enhance their action in conflict prevention;

- Third, put human beings at the centre of our effort. All United Nations member states must better integrate the human rights dimension in all their conflict prevention activities and, consequently, increase their support to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Our challenge for the next decade consists in increasing the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. There is potential for progress everywhere: be it in Geneva, New York or in the field.

Armed conflicts continue to cause untold human suffering. Only a common will and a common responsibility, assumed by nations that stand genuinely united, can reduce the suffering of human beings and advance their rights. 

Thank you for supporting our appeal.


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