Sustainable development occurs where underprivileged population groups organize themselves and stand up for their rights. Yet civil society organizations that call for fair social conditions are being subjected to widespread and massive State repression around the world. For many committed activists, attempted intimidation, pointless red tape, travel bans, arrests and other government encroachments are part of everyday life.
The current repressive tendencies are also impacting local organizations that are partners in Swiss development cooperation programmes and champions of the rights of girls and women, indigenous peoples, environmental protection and the fight against corruption.
The annual report of the competent UN Special Rapporteur shows that State repression of progressive civil society organizations is relying ever more on newly enacted laws which are limiting the rights of assembly, organization and free speech under the pretext of vaguely defined security concerns, the fight against terrorism or the promotion of national economic development.
These laws are often in sharp contradiction to internationally recognized human rights. This is of little concern to the governments involved, however. They argue that national security and economic interests naturally take precedence over international agreements and international law.
The right-wing conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is using the same line of argument in militating against “foreign judges” and in favour of its so-called self-determination initiative, which will be put to the vote on 25 November. Its aim is to make it possible for Swiss domestic law to contradict human rights in the future. In the event the initiative is accepted, Switzerland would have to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights in the short or long term. In so doing it would become the perfect excuse for authoritarian and corrupt governments in all developing and emerging countries where human rights are already being violated in the name of national interests.
Our country would lose its credibility in the international community and could no longer seriously advocate for human rights in international bodies and in its development work. Swiss civil society must therefore do the utmost to oppose the SVP self-determination initiative!
A resounding “No” to the initiative would ultimately be tantamount to a clear “Yes” by Switzerland to human rights.
On the shrinking space for civil society organisations see also: