Human rights under pressure in Europe: the Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks call for the protection of human rights

Bern, 24.05.2017 - "Protecting human rights is of fundamental importance for Switzerland and needs our full attention", said Mr Burkhalter during his meeting with Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks. The system to ensure the protection of human rights in Europe was under pressure, he said. Mr Muižnieks is currently evaluating the situation with regard to human rights in Switzerland on behalf of the Council of Europe. The meeting in Bern therefore also addressed human rights in Switzerland.

During this working visit, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs discussed with Nils Muižnieks the human rights situation in Europe. The system set up after the Second World War to protect human rights is under pressure, Mr Burkhalter said. "We are at a critical moment in Europe with regard to the protection of human rights. Human rights are not a given and we must strive daily to ensure they are upheld", he said in reference to the current situation in various States, and underscored the importance of the Council of Europe's role in the protection of the individual.

In Europe, Switzerland works closely with the Council of Europe, which it assists in various ways. Engagement in favour of human rights compliance is foreseen in Switzerland's Federal Constitution. Switzerland's current efforts are guided by its human rights strategy for 2016–19. The strategy stresses that human rights are universal and aims to strengthen the mechanisms and institutions created to protect them. Switzerland seeks to strengthen human rights in collaboration with civil society and the private sector. Human rights are intended to protect the individual in their relations with the state, which is why Switzerland is working for the abolition of the death penalty and the prevention of torture, and advocates for freedom of speech.

Regarding human rights in Switzerland, topics covered by Mr Burkhalter and Mr Muižnieks included the creation of a national human rights institution, which the Federal Council approved in June 2016. The pair also discussed the link between human rights and business. Switzerland has launched various initiatives to improve coherence in this area. These include its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights published at the end of 2016 and regular meetings with   representatives from the private sector, civil society and academia. Mr Burkhalter and Mr Muižnieks also spoke about Switzerland's political system. Mr Burkhalter stressed that Switzerland's success lay in its strong institutions and the fact that its citizens have the opportunity to be active in political decision-making, by exercising their vote in referendums, for example.

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights advocates for the protection of human rights in the Council's 47 member states and seeks to raise public awareness. The Commissioner also issues recommendations on human rights protection and informs states of potential shortcomings. Mr Muižniek's visit to Switzerland was part of this national exchange.

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