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

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Support to Gaza Community Mental health Programme

01.03.2019 - 31.12.2021

By supporting the provision of quality mental health services through Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Switzerland contributes to strengthening the resilience of vulnerable people in the Gaza Strip, where distress, psychological and psychiatric problems continue to increase after more than a decade of Israeli closure and intra-Palestinian divide, repeated traumatic conflicts and the degradation of socioeconomic conditions. Addressing distress and traumas also contributes to the prevention of radicalization.


National Human Rights Program for Afghanistan (Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission)

01.02.2019 - 31.12.2023

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has a constitutional mandate to promote and protect human rights in Afghanistan. The Commission continues the journey of building an Afghan society free of fear and discrimination. It lobbies with the government and other actors and contributes significantly to enhance human rights awareness, education, monitoring and reporting, and to empower Afghan citizens to defend their human rights. Switzerland together with other donors provides financial and when required technical support.


United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2020

The protracted conflict in eastern Ukraine and its devastating effect on the civilian population requires a continued comprehensive international human rights monitoring and engagement with relevant actors. The presence and impartial work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission helps to identify human rights gaps and concerns in Ukraine with a special focus on the east and Crimea. The mission formulates specific recommendations for shaping state policies and international assistance programs.


She Leads – Women Leadership Programme

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2022

Federalism has created a historic opportunity for some 14’000 Nepalese women, over half of them from socially discriminated groups, to serve for the first time as elected representatives at local level. However, most elected women at local level remain excluded from political decision making due to discrimination based on patriarchal norms and values, and lack of resources and networks. The project promotes women leadership to support the peace process and to prevent future conflicts.


Multi-Donor civil society support program in Rwanda

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2020

The program aims at strengthening the capacity of Rwanda civil society to engage constructively with the Government on policy, planning and monitoring issues. It will improve a bottom-up dialogue and consultation mechanisms and promote the use of evidence in policy making for an effective implementation of the National Strategy for Transformation. The project is in line with Switzerland’s approach of fostering civic participation in Rwanda.


Support to Safe Spaces for Women, Youth and Children in Gaza Strip

Safe Spaces Project, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2020

In 2019-2020, Switzerland will support the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) and the Culture and Arts Association (NAWA) in the Gaza Strip to provide quality educational and cultural services in safe learning environments for children, youth and women, including persons with disabilities. This contribution aims to enhance the inclusion of marginalized groups in local development and in community-led initiatives, and to prevent wider spreading of violent extremism and radicalisation.


Programme contribution to Brot für alle / Bread for all 2019-2020

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2020

Bread for all (Bfa), the development organization of the protestant churches of Switzerland, has aligned its mandate with the Agenda 2030. Through a network of ten faith-based organizations active in partner countries, Bfa supports disadvantaged people to access Food Security, Education and Health. It also strengthens communities in peacebuilding and conflict transformation, while furthering the social responsibility of Swiss stakeholders.


Program Contribution to Fastenopfer (FO) 2019 - 2020

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2020

Fastenopfer (FO) is a Swiss Catholic relief organization established in Luzern in 1961. It supports disadvantaged people and communities of all confessions aiming at overcoming hunger and poverty in partnership with organisations in 14 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as with partners in Switzerland. FO promotes socio- cultural and economic transformation towards sustainable development and is especially engaged in the areas of food security, sustainable economy and gender equality.


Non earmarked Contribution 2019 to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

06.12.2018 - 31.12.2019

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is Switzerland’s longstanding strategic partner in the area of human rights. The Office acts as the leading UN entity for human rights. The present non-earmarked contribution aims to assist the OHCHR in meeting its needs and objectives for 2019, and to help guaranteeing the independence of the Office.


United Nations World Bank „Humanitarian Development Peace Initiative“ (formerly „UN – World Bank Fragility and Conflict Partnership Trust Fund”)

01.12.2018 - 31.12.2021

The “Humanitarian – Development - Peace Initiative” (HDPI) is a joint effort by the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank aim to increase aid efficiency in contexts affected by fragility, conflict and violence through working closer together across the humanitarian – development – peace nexus. For the past eight years, Switzerland has been supporting the UN – World Bank partnership both politically and financially and is in a good position to promote further institutionalisation and scale-up


Program for the Support of Electoral Processes in Tunisia (PSPET) – Phase II

01.12.2018 - 31.12.2019

The program contributes to outcome 1.2 of the SDC’s 2017-2020 strategy. This intermediary phase of the program would contribute to leverage the resilience of independent electoral authorities for the successful organization of the 2019 national elections and beyond and strengthen citizen engagement in decision making through effective outreach and civic education. It would also permit for a closer assessment of the field to prepare for the phasing out of the program moving forward. 


Disability: Community Based Development Muzaffargarh, Pakistan

01.12.2018 - 31.12.2020

Die CBM fokussiert auf die ärmsten und schwächsten Bevölkerungsgruppen – getreu dem Grundsatz «Niemanden zurücklassen» (Leave no one behind) im Hinblick auf die Umsetzung der Agenda 2030. Deshalb spielt die CBM seit über dreissig Jahren eine wichtige Rolle bei der Inklusion von Menschen mit Behinderungen, namentlich von sehbehinderten und blinden Menschen. Die DEZA wird über die Abteilung Institutionelle Partnerschaften, die für das Thema «Disability» zuständig ist, einen Pilotbeitrag zur Verbesserung der Lebensbedingungen von Menschen mit Behinderungen leisten.

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