Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

Human rights must also be respected during protests

At Switzerland's initiative, the Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. In addition, Switzerland has submitted a resolution with partner states on the 15th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect in order to renew the 2005 commitment of the international community to preventing the worst crimes.

 A woman uses a translation device to listen to a speaker during the session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The main organ for human rights of the UN adopts a resolution calling on all states to promote and protect human rights in the context of peaceful demonstrations. © Keystone

Demonstrations for greater climate protection. Demonstrations for women's rights. Demonstrations against racism, In Switzerland it is a matter of course that we are able to express our views publicly. Freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly is enshrined in the Swiss Federal Constitution as one of our fundamental rights but more than anything else it is an integral part of our collective understanding. Even during a crisis such as the current COVID 19 pandemic, Switzerland is doing everything it can to guarantee these rights as far as possible. This is not the case everywhere in the world. In many countries the pressure on human rights is increasing - especially in times of crisis.

Protests as a form of collective expression

The Human Rights Council, founded 14 years ago, is the central international institution for the promotion, protection and implementation of human rights worldwide. It is also committed to addressing human rights violations and finding common solutions to protect human rights. 

Peaceful demonstrations are an important form of collective expression in all regions of the world. The concerns that people around the world express on the streets are very diverse. Unfortunately, there are many situations in which peaceful demonstrations are violently oppressed in all regions of the world.
Barbara Fontana, Head of the Human Rights Section at the Swiss Mission to the UN in Geneva

On the initiative of Switzerland and Costa Rica, the Human Rights Council adopted, among other things, a resolution calling on all states to promote and protect human rights in the context of peaceful protests. "Peaceful demonstrations are an important form of collective expression in all regions of the world. The concerns that people around the world express on the streets are very diverse. Unfortunately, there are many situations in which peaceful demonstrations are violently oppressed in all regions of the world," explains Barbara Fontana, Head of the Human Rights Section at the Swiss Mission to the UN in Geneva.

Human rights apply online as well as offline

The resolution places a particular focus on the positive and negative consequences of modern technologies on human rights in the context of peaceful protests. In this regard, the resolution reaffirms the applicability of the right to peaceful assembly both online and offline, and underscores the importance of ensuring that protesters are not hindered by internet blocking or surveillance in the digital space. 

"On the one hand, new technologies make it easier to organise demonstrations, for example through social networks. Some protests have even been held completely online. On the other hand, new technologies can also be used to monitor or harass the organisers of demonstrations. With the advent of new technologies, it is essential to reaffirm that the same rights apply both online and offline," says Barbara Fontana.

Under no circumstances should certain human rights be restricted

The resolution also recalls that restrictions adopted in times of crisis, for example in connection with the fight against COVID-19, must under no circumstances be used as a pretext for banning protests or suppressing civil society. With this resolution, Switzerland wishes to reaffirm the primary responsibility of states to promote and protect human rights in connection with demonstrations.

"As long as restrictions, for example in the context of pandemic control, comply with certain rules such as legality, proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination, such restrictions may be compatible with international law. However, there are also rights from which there can be no derogation under any circumstances, such as the right to life or the prohibition of torture," affirms the head of the Human Rights Section.

Responsibility to Protect as a means of preventing atrocities

In addition to the resolution on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, Switzerland submitted a further resolution in conjunction with Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Peru and Qatar. This resolution focuses on the 15th anniversary of the 2005 World Summit, during which the UN member states adopted the concept of the Responsability to Protect (R2P). The concept underscores the responsibility of states, but also of the international community, to prevent the most heinous of crimes, such as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

As part of its commitment to sustainable peace, stability and ultimately prosperity, Switzerland has long been committed to preventing these most heinous of crimes. The Swiss commitment to R2P is part of our ongoing overall commitment to the prevention of atrocities.
Barbara Fontana, head of the Human Rights Section

The 15th anniversary is an occasion to renew the commitment to R2P and with a first thematic resolution to emphasise the importance of the Human Rights Council in implementing the concept. "As part of its commitment to sustainable peace, stability and ultimately prosperity, Switzerland has long been committed to preventing these most heinous of crimes. The Swiss commitment to R2P is part of our ongoing overall commitment to the prevention of atrocities," explains Barbara Fontana.

Independent journalism and free media as key players

In view of the human rights situation in certain countries, Switzerland sustained its call for systematic compliance with human rights and, if applicable, international humanitarian law by all parties, and played an active role in the interactive dialogues and negotiations on resolutions on the human rights situation in Belarus, Eritrea and Syria. Switzerland also defended respect for human rights during the dialogues on Burundi, Myanmar, the Philippines and Venezuela. Switzerland also supported a statement initiated by the United Kingdom and co-sponsored by a total of 28 states in which these States expressed their concern about the human rights situation in China (Xinjiang and Hong Kong).

Lastly, in the annual interactive dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, Switzerland called on all states to respect the right to freedom of expression and access to information, particularly in relation to COVID-19. It reaffirmed the crucial role of independent journalists and media in providing factual information and combating misinformation.

Racist motivated violence

In the run-up to this 44th session, from 15 to 23 June, the Human Rights Council was able to complete the work of the previous session, which had to be suspended on 13 March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This week was marked in particular by the holding of an urgent debate on racist human rights violations, systemic racism and police violence. At the conclusion of this urgent debate, the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution on this thematic. In the course of the debate Switzerland took the opportunity to emphasise the need to ensure respect for and the protection of the human rights of all without discrimination.

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