No development without human rights

Rohingya children playing with a doll at a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
The SDC gives high priority to protecting the rights of vulnerable groups such as the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. © Anna Dubuis / DFID

Sustainable development is only possible if fundamental human rights principles such as non-discrimination, participation, and the rule of law are respected. These rights form the basis of international cooperation. This is why the promotion of human rights is a key issue for the SDC.

SDC focus

The realization of human rights is a foreign policy objective anchored in the Federal Constitution. Swiss human rights foreign policy focuses on the following three priorities:

  • The protection and promotion of civil and political rights, for example access to justice free of discrimination and participation in political processes
  • The protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education or health
  • The protection of the rights of especially vulnerable groups.

The SDC contributes to the implementation of the human rights policy by promoting the rights of the poor and supporting governments in their efforts to respect, protect and promote these rights. SDC's programmes on fighting poverty actively promote human rights.

Working with the human rights approach

The SDC works with a human-rights-based approach. In addition to international standards, which give legitimacy to development cooperation, the SDC promotes the following human rights principles:

  • Equal rights and non-discrimination
  • Participation and support in asserting human rights (empowerment)
  • Responsibility for human rights violations, accountability and redress
  • Indivisibility and universality.

The SDC undertakes to systematically include questions of rights, for example in the fields of migration or labour law, in its programmes in all its partner countries. It uses a human rights approach to help people ("rights holders") to exercise and demand their rights. At the same time, it assists state and non-state institutions ("duty bearers") in their efforts to adhere to their obligation to ensure respect for and the protection of human rights.

Strengthening state institutions and promoting the rights of vulnerable groups

Fragility, armed conflicts and human rights violations – which tend to become mutually reinforcing like in a vicious cycle – hinder the fight against poverty. In most cases, fragile states cannot guarantee basic services, including protection against human rights violations. For this reason, the SDC helps its partner countries strengthen their state structures, thus enabling them to better fulfil their human rights obligations.

In Tajikistan, for example, the SDC supports reforms to strengthen rights-assistance services, the main beneficiaries of which are women whose husbands have gone to other countries to work. In Albania, with the assistance of the SDC, a comprehensive and sustainable social-protection system has been put in place to improve the social integration of the Roma community. In Bolivia, the SDC supports the national ombudsman's office for human rights, and seeks to address the concerns of the indigenous populations. In Afghanistan, the SDC assists women's organisations, and in Honduras it helps protect human rights defenders.

With these projects, the SDC promotes the rights of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, strengthens civil society and promotes the establishment of state institutions.

Examining states' human rights commitment

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the most important human rights conventions of the United Nations together form a broad-based regulatory framework for international human rights protection. One of the strengths of this frame of reference is its universality: human rights are valid worldwide. The majority of states have ratified the most important human rights conventions. Nevertheless, many states do not adhere to their obligations.

For this reason, the UN has set up a number of monitoring mechanisms. In the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN member states are obliged to report regularly on their current domestic human rights situation. Through the UPR, civil society now has a voice at the international level and can reach the general public. The SDC supports these efforts. For example, it has enabled Pakistani journalists to express their positions on the Pakistani government's state report. In Afghanistan, it supports the justice ministry in implementing the UN's recommendations.

Current projects

Object 1 – 12 of 48

Gender-based Violence Prevention and Response Project (GBV Project)

01.01.2024 - 31.12.2027

Gender-based violence is prevalent in Nepal because of patriarchal values, lack of rights awareness or support services and poor implementation of laws. In the first phase, the project will directly reach 50,000 households in three districts with GBV prevention activities involving women, girls, men and boys and will provide improved medical, psychosocial and legal services for a minimum of 1’000 GBV survivors. Subsequently, the coverage will be increased.


Support to the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP)

01.07.2021 - 31.12.2024

Gender inequalities persist and are a major barrier for poverty reduction and sustainable inclusive development. SDC supports the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific, a non-governmental organisation working nationally, regionally, and globally towards the achievement of women's human rights, especially through the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) mechanism.


AcËess to Justice project in Tajikistan

01.07.2021 - 31.07.2025

This exit phase of the Access to Justice (A2J) in Tajikistan will solidify the free public legal aid system to vulnerable individuals with respect to their legal claims (e.g. child allowances, spouse support etc.). It will also entirely transmit the aid system to the state budget and to the institutional management by the Ministry of Justice of Tajikistan in order to achieve full financial sustainability of access to Justice for the most vulnerable ones.


Organisation Mondiale contre la Torture (OMCT)

01.01.2021 - 31.12.2025

L’intervention a pour objectifs de renforcer la responsabilisation des acteurs publics pour les violations des droits humains et de contribuer à la réforme de l’environnement institutionnel pour prévenir la torture et réduire l’impunité en Tunisie. Elle offre une assistance directe aux victimes et promeut une meilleure conduite professionnelle des forces sécuritaires et carcérales. L’OMCT travaille aussi en lien étroit avec la société civile pour mener des plaidoyers communs contre la torture et l’impunité des responsables.


OHCHR - Strategic Partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

16.11.2020 - 31.12.2023

Promoting respect for human rights is a foreign policy goal and pillar of Swiss international cooperation, as the denial of human rights is one of the main factors of poverty. With a multi-year contribution to the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, focussing on selected geographic and thematic priorities, SDC will support this organisation to better play its key role in integrating human rights in sustainable development.


Governing Health Futures 2030 Youth Network

01.10.2020 - 30.06.2023

Stronger governance of digital technology, data and artificial intelligence is required to maximise the benefits – and mitigate the risks – of health in a digital age for the next generation. To date, young people’s needs and perspectives have been largely overlooked in the design, application and governance of digital health and data. Through this proposal, Switzerland will support greater youth involvement in governing health futures.



Civil Registry System Reform Project in Tajikistan (CRR)

01.01.2020 - 31.12.2023

SDC assists the Ministry of Justice in its efforts to replace the paper-based civil registry system with a more efficient electronic civil registry system. This new system and the planned outreach activities will help people across the country in obtaining their vital documents faster and in better quality from the civil registry offices; this will help them to protect and claim their rights in relation to schooling, alimonies,  migration, healthcare and even voting. Moreover, the new civil registry system will also help the government to better plan and monitor its services provided to the population including in the education, health and labor sector.


International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)

01.01.2020 - 31.12.2022

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential for social and economic development. Only 76% of women of reproductive age have their need for modern contraception satisfied. The International Planned Parenthood Federation a leading global advocacy organization whose member organizations in over 165 countries provide sexual and reproductive health services at local level and context-specific policy solutions that mainly benefit the poor and vulnerable.


Water Integrity : Core contribution to the Water Integrity Network (WIN)

01.01.2020 - 31.12.2023

Water Integrity and fight against corruption allow for effective governance in the water sector. Water integrity is a prerequisite for the efficient achievement of safe water and adequate sanitation for all (SDG 6). The support to WIN’s strategy contributes to increase transparency, accountability and participation in the water sector at global, regional and local level. WIN has developed a set of tools to diagnose corruption and to improve governance in the water sector. Through WIN’s advocacy work at global, regional and local level, and implementation of country initiatives in Kenya, Benin and Bangladesh capacities to assess the status of governance and prepare for action are strengthened. Right holders are empowered to claim better water management, equitable and sustained access to water and sanitation, and to hold duty bearers accountable.


Health Promotion and System Strengthening

Women with their babies wait at the Hombolo Health Centre in Dodoma

01.11.2019 - 31.10.2023

The Health Promotion and System Strengthening Project is a SDC flagship project in Tanzania. In this third and exit phase, the project will strengthen the efficiency of national institutions to scale up policy reform processes that have been introduced based on the successful health innovations financed by SDC. The institutional capacity of 187 district councils will be enhanced to improve access to social protection, medicines supply, medical equipment maintenance and health promotion through technical assistance, digitalized solutions and researches for policy dialogue.


Strengthening Governance and Human Rights in Central America

Natural Resources Governance Dialogue

01.10.2019 - 30.09.2022

The program strengthens the capacities and the presence of the Inter-American Human Rights System in Central America in order to ensure the follow-up on court judgements and recommendations, to educate employees of the justice sector, to report on the Human Rights situation and to strengthen the protection of Human Rights defenders. The program further promotes dialogue on natural resource management among governments, the private sector, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendants.

Object 1 – 12 of 48