Switzerland Refuses to Condemn Saudi Arabia: Its global status continues to be jeopardized


The recent meeting of the Human Rights Council and the current annual International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights justifiably put Geneva and Switzerland in the forefront of human rights. What other city, what other country has such a concentration of institutions, non-governmental organizations and events devoted to human rights? Geneva rightfully prides itself as being the human rights capital of the world.

At last week’s meeting of the Human Rights Council, 36 countries, including all members of the European Union, issued a statement demanding that Saudi Arabia liberate all Saudi activists, especially those who advocate women’s rights and who are in prison.
“We are particularly concerned about the use of the counterterrorism law and other national security provisions against individuals peacefully exercising their rights and freedoms,” said Harald Aspelund, Iceland’s Ambassador in Geneva who read the statement on behalf of the group. The statement also condemned “in the strongest terms” the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and called on the Saudi authorities to cooperate with the United Nations investigation of his murder.
Switzerland abstained from signing the declaration. It refused to join the 36 countries, which included Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Once again, the government in Bern failed to capitalize on Switzerland’s niche as the human rights capital of the world, and once again questions should be raised about Swiss foreign policy.
Why didn’t Switzerland join its European neighbors and fellow democracies? What was so objectionable about the statement? According to a report by a news agency, a spokeswoman for the Swiss delegation said that the decision to abstain was “not because [Switzerland] disagreed with the contents of the statement, but because it has already reacted,” alluding to the opening statement to the Human Rights Council by Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.
Indeed, in his opening remarks to the Council, Minister Cassis said that “Even in Switzerland, where this fundamental right [liberty of expression] is written in the Constitution (Article 16), expressing an opinion contrary to the mainstream could upset people. One must therefore continue to encourage those who show courage and dare to personally go against uniform thinking, in respect of others, without the need to anonymously hide behind social media.”
“I cannot refrain here from thinking of journalists like Jamal Khashoggi from Saudi Arabia or Jan Kuciak from Slovakia, assassinated in 2018 because of their courage.”
Was that enough? Switzerland criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights policies during the universal periodic review in 2018. But a spokesman for Amnesty International said that the Swiss abstention was “profoundly disappointing and will once again cause large damage to the country’s reputation as a defender of human rights.” Several NGO’s joined in criticizing the Swiss position.
The abstention is consistent with several recent Swiss decisions that show a retreat from Switzerland’s playing an active role in human rights, humanitarian law and moral leadership. A résumé: In June, Switzerland announced that it would allow the sale of arms to countries in the grip of “internal armed conflict” under certain conditions. After considerable resistance, the government changed its position. On November 1, Switzerland did not join 120 countries banning the future use of nuclear weapons. And, against the efforts of the Swiss ambassador in New York and co-facilitator of the Compact, the Federal Council announced in November that it would not sign the United Nations Global Compact for Migration. 
Taken together, the initial position on arms sales to countries in conflict, the refusal to sign the nuclear weapons ban and the migration pact, and now the failure to sign a statement condemning Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses reflect a serious reversal of Swiss human rights leadership.
What is the message Switzerland wants to send to the world about its comparative advantage? To have the Human Rights Council meet in Geneva is an important part of Switzerland’s historic role in human rights. The success of the film festival is another example of the uniqueness of Geneva. Either Bern doesn’t understand that historic role or it is working at cross purposes with obvious collateral damage. This is more than just a Röstigraben between Geneva and Bern: the refusal to condemn Saudi Arabia is a serious affront to multilateralism and Switzerland’s reputation.   


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  • Absolutely.

  • Faut-il être bien naïf pour ne pas comprendre que les orientations politiques d'un pays sont dictées par l'économie. Les idéaux c'est bien tant que ça ne touche pas le porte-monnaie.
    On vient de le vérifier dernièrement avec un travail intensif des lobbies qui a permis à deux voix près le refus du parlement de proposer un contre-projet à l'initiative pour des multinationales responsables. Il sera intéressant de voir ce que le peuple en pense, mais surtout s'il va suivre ses représentants et valider les innombrables violations des conventions de Genève par ces grosses sociétés qui ont pour la plupart leur siège mondial en Suisse.

  • C'est une vision totalement occidentale du problème. Et donc c'est insuffisant au mieux, et faux au pire. Jouer finement avec le KSA est indispensable, parce que c'est la clé de nos relations avec le sunnisme. Il faut regarder ce que font les Israéliens. Et cesser de hurler avec les sirènes du politiquement correct, toujours très orientées... (vous avez dit "orientées" ?)

  • Par rapport au commentaire de Pierre Jenni : le monde intellectuel semble avoir perdu de vue ses propres bases : la création de limites. Sans poser de limites, tout est indistinct. Nous ne voyons et ne comprenons plus rien. Une baleine est un poisson, il n'y a plus de races donc un noir est blanc et un blanc est noir, un chimpanzé a 99% de l'ADN d'un humain donc il est aussi humain ?
    Il n'y a pas de frontière entre l'économie et la politique. C'est une vision de l'esprit. Nous avons la politique de notre porte-monnaie. L'Europe importe des millions de pauvres qui restent pauvres et donc votent pour ceux qui les ont fait rentrer au pays des riches, les socialistes. Qui donc feront rentrer en Europe encore plus de pauvres, pour voter socialiste. Et donc l'Europe deviendra comme l'Afrique, un continent de pauvres...

  • À celui qui me traite de fasciste, chapeau pour ses commentaires!

  • M. Warner, as you may already know, consensus has been a strong tenet of Swiss political life since the country’s founding. Our political system is based on broad compromises but in the last 10 to 20 years, it seems to me that the Swiss party system has become more polarised. Our traditional system is under pressure: confrontation increasingly prevails over consensus. It seems to me that Minister Cassis recent statements (statement on UNRWA, etc.) are not merely political faux pas or a beginner's mistake as they were described by some observers, but they are part of a wider campaign to shift Switzerland's foreign policy. Cassis’s comments about UNRWA last year, called into question Switzerland's credibility as a country that usually participates in the promotion of peace and is largely regarded as an honest broker. Unsurprisingly, Cassis had faced criticism by high-ranking UN representatives as well as fellow Federal Counsellors.
    I am afraid this move was in fact a test run intended to testing the water by seeing how people respond to a particular issue; and that will help Cassis to decide on his paths of action in shifting Switzerland foreign policy. The recent decision to which you refer in your article, is clearly associated with this new Foreign Policy approach.
    Let us hope that I will be proven wrong.

  • Désolée de ne pas être d'accord avec vous Daniel Warner! Mais plutôt avec la déclaration de Ignazio Cassis.La Suisse a raison de se maintenir dans ces positions courageuses! Les ONG, comme les droits de l'homme, n'ont plus aucune crédibilité.
    Vous n'arrêtez pas de nous invoquer l'assassinat de Jamal Khashoggi, qui n'était pas qu'un simple journaliste. C'était un islamiste très radical, proche d’Oussama ben Laden et des Frères Musulmans.

    Tout ce remue ménage à l'encontre de l'Arabie Saoudite est tout simplement parce qu'elle soutient Israël!

  • l'Arabie Saoudite soutient Israël! Eh bien qui se ressemble s'assemble! Entre dictateurs on se serre les coudes.

  • Les dictateurs sont les lâches qui vomissent leur haine antisémite sous un masque/pseudo.... mais la signature du pleutre est là!

  • Entièrement d'accord les dictateurs et leurs complices sont des lâches qui travestissent la vérité historique allant jusqu'à nier l'existence et l'identité de tout un peuple privé de ses droits les plus élémentaires et subissant l'une des pires répressions des septante dernières années dans les territoires occupés. Les complices sous pseudo hayoun sont aussi coupables que les dictateurs qu'ils/elles défendent. Mais les suisses ne sont pas dupes.

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