Conflict prevention: Didier Burkhalter seeks to strengthen UN human rights pillar

Bern, 21.09.2016 - The abolition of the death penalty and strengthening the human rights pillar at the United Nations were the key issues raised by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, on Wednesday in New York at the 71st session of the General Assembly of the UN.

On 13 June this year Switzerland launched an appeal to put human rights at the heart of conflict prevention, an initiative based on the assumption that the deterioration of human rights in a region or country is often a precursor to future conflict or civil war. It was the basis for Switzerland's proposal for the Security Council to give greater consideration to the work of the Human Rights Council and for the two UN bodies to work more closely together. This summer the Human Rights Council celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding in Geneva.

The appeal resonated fully with some 70 states which have already signed it. In New York Mr Burkhalter laid special emphasis on the need to be more attentive to human rights violations but said it was equally important to develop capacities for a UN response when problems are identified. "Although the UN's peace operations are relatively well funded, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights needs to be strengthened and must be given more resources," he said.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published today a brochure entitled 'Death Penalty and the Victims', focusing on the direct and indirect victims of capital punishment who often go unmentioned, such as the families of those condemned, prison staff, etc. The report provided matter for discussion on the issue at a meeting bringing together numerous foreign ministers from around the world, opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The discussion, which included testimonials from a former death row inmate and a prison guard, led those participating to conclude that the death penalty does not resolve anything, but rather "it only creates more victims, more violence and more suffering" as Mr Burkhalter said in his speech. "The General Assembly of the United Nations will vote this year on a resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment. We are committed to ensuring that these debates, studies and publications convince more and more states to join us in supporting it," said Mr Burkhalter.

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