Federal Council report on international cooperation with NGOs

Bern, 29.01.2020 - The Federal Council's report on international cooperation with NGOs in partner countries, adopted at its meeting of 29 January 2020, has concluded that conditions for international cooperation with NGOs are good. According to the report, which the Federal Council produced in response to two parliamentary procedural requests, the FDFA's management and control instruments enable a careful selection of NGOs, ensure effective cooperation and allow professional management of risks. The FDFA incorporates the lessons learned from its cooperation with NGOs in politically highly polarised contexts like the Middle East conflict into the ongoing development of its toolkit.

Switzerland works with NGOs to implement its international cooperation mandate in multiple areas. Given their experience, knowledge of local conditions and innovative potential, NGOs are key partners in achieving the foreign policy goals. Cooperation with NGOs plays a key role in everything from social and economic development to humanitarian aid and the promotion of the rule of law, thus helping to achieve positive results.

The Federal Council's report concludes that the existing legal framework for cooperation with NGOs is sufficient and that there is currently no need to adjust it. Cooperation with NGOs is governed by:
• the Federal Act on International Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid,
• the Federal Act on Cooperation with the States of Eastern Europe
• and the Federal Act on Measures pertaining to Civil Peace Support and the Promotion of Human Rights.

Current legislation also affords the Federal Council and the Federal Administration the necessary flexibility to select the most suitable contractual partners for international cooperation.

The FDFA's management and control instruments for cooperation with NGOs are reviewed and further developed on an ongoing basis. They enable the FDFA to identify and limit risks upstream. Key components of the toolkit are the anti-discrimination clause introduced in 2017 to all contracts with external partners and the code of conduct to strengthen the prevention of sexual harassment and abuse at partner organisations. This code of conduct was updated in 2018. In addition, the FDFA systematically monitors cooperation to ensure that no politically exposed persons are involved in partner organisations. Nonetheless, there is no such thing as zero risk, particularly in politically highly polarised contexts where international cooperation is carried out.

Corrective measures taken in the Middle East context

Switzerland's cooperation with Israeli and Palestinian NGOs is a case in point. The report cites the example of the Ramallah-based Secretariat for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law as evidence that the Middle East is one of the regions where the FDFA's management and control instruments have proven effective. The Secretariat, which was jointly funded by several donor countries, provided support to two dozen NGOs active in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law. Together with Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, Switzerland took effective measures to ensure that projects were implemented in compliance with the contract concluded with the Secretariat and to improve its management structures. In addition, Switzerland discontinued cooperation with one NGO that failed to distance itself clearly enough from violence. The report describes how the lessons learned from this ambitious Middle East project served to further improve the FDFA's control instruments across the board.

The results achieved through cooperation with NGOs in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory have been satisfactory overall. The FDFA is currently drawing up a new strategy for the Middle East and North Africa for the years 2021–24, which will cover Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and define additional thematic priorities. Cooperation with NGOs will be adapted accordingly. Among other changes, Switzerland has decided to reduce the number of NGOs it supports, to discontinue its work with the Secretariat for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, and to step up its efforts to monitor the organisations with which it cooperates.

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