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Switzerland: Shift in development policies prompts concern despite many good practices, says UN rights expert

GENEVA (2 October 2019) – Switzerland's approach to international cooperation has an excellent reputation based on a long and stable practice of serving the world's poorest populations, but new policies could clash with some of its obligations under the 2030 sustainable development agenda, says visiting UN expert Saad Alfarargi.

Alfarargi, the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, noted that Switzerland's draft Dispatch on International Cooperation 2021-2024, which sets out the country's strategic plans, includes a proposal for new criteria for humanitarian aid and development cooperation. The new criteria are defined as Switzerland's interests and the relative benefits to Switzerland at international level.

"I am concerned that these new criteria show a shift in Switzerland's priorities. This shift has the potential to contradict Switzerland's international commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals," said Alfarargi, presenting a preliminary statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.

"It is also worrying that the Government is planning to reduce its rate of development aid between 2021 and 2024. I appeal to Switzerland to honour its commitment to allocate 0.7% of its Gross National Product to official development assistance, as provided for under the Addis Ababa Programme of Action and Agenda 2030."

The Special Rapporteur commended Switzerland for a number of positive practices, such as initiatives to integrate young migrants and refugees into the education system, to provide integration coaching and training to older refugees and other long-term residents of foreign origin, and to bring the gender pay gap in the private sector under scrutiny.

He also studied the Swiss education system, which with its flexibility and emphasis on vocational training has the potential to provide young people with the tools necessary for their economic empowerment and effective participation in all aspects of the society.

Alfarargi highlighted remaining challenges, including the lack of data in Switzerland broken down by type of disability in relation to employment, and education at cantonal level.

"I am also concerned that children with disabilities are not systematically integrated into the mainstream education system in all cantons, and that assisting people with disabilities to find jobs remains the responsibility of the social insurance authorities rather than the unemployment administration. These approaches run contrary to the commitments under the 2030 Agenda and under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities," he said.

Alfarargi said gender stereotyping remained widespread in Switzerland, and that women were still poorly represented in senior management roles both in the public and private sector.

"More than half of all women in Switzerland are employed part-time, putting them at a disadvantage in terms of further education, training and social security, and ultimately leaving them with lower pensions at the end of their working lives. Moreover, many women work in low-paid jobs in sectors that lack job security. Switzerland must take further measures to address these persistent inequalities," the Special Rapporteur said.

Alfarargi will submit a full report to the Human Rights Council in September 2020 on his visit.


Mr. Saad Alfarargi (Egypt) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the right to development by the Human Rights Council in 2017. Mr. Alfarargi served as Ambassador and Permanent Observer of League of Arab States to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva (1998-2012), Regional Director for Arab States, Assistant Administrator, UNDP, New York(1995-1997), Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Chief of the President's Office for Economic Affairs, Cairo(1992-1995), Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva. He holds BSc.and MSc. degrees in Political Science from Cairo University, and has conducted post graduate studies in International Relations at the London School of Economics.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page — Switzerland

For further information and media inquiries during the visit please contact: Ms Antoanela Pavlova (+41 22 917 93 31 / apavlova@ohchr.org) or write to srdevelopment@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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