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Statements Special Procedures

Preliminary findings and recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Mr. Saad Alfarargi, at the end of his visit to Switzerland

02 October 2019

Bern, (2 October 2019) – At the end of his visit to Switzerland, during which the Special Rapporteur held meetings in the capital and in the cantons of Bern, Ticino and Zug, Mr. Saad Alfarargi delivered the following statement:

"I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Government of Switzerland for inviting me to the country to conduct my second official visit as Special Rapporteur on the right to development, and for their excellent support and cooperation before and during my time here. 

During my official visit from 23 September to 2 October 2019, I visited the three cantons, and I was able to meet with a large number of federal and cantonal government representatives, civil society organizations and academics.

This was my second country visit since my appointment as Special Rapporteur on the right to development in 2017. My objectives during the visit were primarily to learn more and gain a first-hand understanding of the advancement of the right to development in Switzerland, and to identify remaining challenges with a view to formulating recommendations to the Government and other stakeholders who are working towards implementing sustainable development and promoting the realization of the right to development in the country. 

I was especially interested in learning more about how the national and cantonal governments promote and guarantee effective public participation in development policies and programs, what are the key challenges faced in the implementation of the right to development in Switzerland and what policies and measures are in place to address inequalities, including those based on gender, social or other status.

Participation in Decision Making

To start on a positive note, I would like to note that in Switzerland the culture of participation in decision making in relation to economic, political, social and cultural issues is well established and institutionalized. Numerous participatory consultation processes exist and are utilized by both government and a vibrant civil society, as well as the private sector. During my visit, I also learned of numerous participatory processes. A notable example is the consultation process on the elaboration of the Dispatch on Switzerland's International Cooperation 2021-2024, which elicited more than 250 inputs from various segments of the society. Another example is the elaboration of Switzerland's 2018 Voluntary National Report on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, presented to the High Level Political Forum. A wide range of stakeholders participated in preparing the report in addition to government authorities at federal and cantonal levels.

Nevertheless, I also learned of numerous remaining challenges. While I am fully aware that the examined issues are complex, I will now share my preliminary conclusions on some of these challenges.

Switzerland's international cooperation policy

Looking at the international dimension of the right to development, I note that Switzerland's international cooperation approach has long enjoyed an excellent reputation, since it has always been oriented towards assisting the poorest populations in the poorest countries, and has alleviated much suffering and brought positive changes in the society where it has engaged. Already the 1976 federal law on international development cooperation and humanitarian aid includes combating poverty as its main objective and it has been implemented with long-term commitment and impartiality. Given this background, I was concerned to learn that the draft Dispatch on International Cooperation 2021-2024 includes a proposal for new deployment criteria for any actions undertaken in relation to humanitarian aid, development cooperation, peacebuilding and human security. The new criteria are defined as Switzerland's interests and the relative benefits to Switzerland at international level.  This shift in priorities appears to be in contrast with the previous approach, and has the potential to clash with Switzerland's commitments under the 2030 Agenda, among others.

Further, in relation to the practical implementation of development assistance in various parts of the developing world, I urge the Swiss authorities to consider using human rights impact assessments to evaluate the potential impact of the programmes and projects it finances. Such assessments do not aim at imposing conditionalities on the receiving partners, but rather are geared towards ensuring that the mentioned programmes do not have an adverse impact on human rights, including the right to development.  

Another concern that was raised by civil society during my visit was the absence of a strategy on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Switzerland's international cooperation. I commend the commitment made by Switzerland to implement the new Marker on Disability of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). I urge the Government to implement it as soon as possible to enable it to track its spending related to persons with disabilities in the supported countries. I also recommend the revision of the draft Dispatch on International Cooperation 2021-2024 to systematically include persons with disabilities. Additionally, I urge the agencies responsible for the implementation of the international cooperation programmes on the ground, (the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO)), to revise their operational methods to consult in a meaningful way with persons with disabilities and their respective organizations in the respective countries.

I would further appeal to Switzerland to honour its commitment to allocate 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) to official development assistance (ODA), as provided for under the Addis Ababa Programme of Action and Agenda 2030. I am concerned regarding the reduction of ODA percentage from 0.5 % of GNI to 0.45 % for the period 2021-2024 and at the fact that the costs of assistance to asylum seekers within the country is included is this number, which further reduces the actual amount of funds going to developing countries to about 0.4 %.

With regards to the Agenda 2030 and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, I welcome the prominent role that Switzerland played during the preparation and negotiations leading to its adoption. Switzerland contributed to a great extent to including human rights and participation language and objectives in the Agenda. When it comes to the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the targets of the Agenda, I recognize that the confederal structure of the state, with responsibilities for different sectors divided both between the federal and the cantonal levels, and between the different sectoral government structures, makes the elaboration of an all-encompassing and coherent strategy a challenge. Nevertheless, several stakeholders have raised concerns regarding the lack of coherent policy for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and the lack of a clear institutional mechanism responsible for it.

I welcome the creation of the 2030 Agenda Steering Committee, on which government departments are represented by senior management figures from key agencies. I encourage the creation of a centralized operational unit tasked to coordinate in a coherent manner the drafting of specific implementation plans for the different sectors at federal level and to support the cantons and communes in implementing their own 2030 Agenda action plans.

The Swiss Education System

During my visit, I also focused on the Swiss education system because access to adequate education is a precondition for every human person to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development. I learned much about the Swiss education system and I saw many positive examples of the way that it provides young people with the tools necessary for their economic empowerment and effective participation in all aspects of the society. One of the positive examples was a two-year transitional programme for young refugees in the Canton of Bern, which allows youth between 15 and 24 years of age who have arrived recently in the country, to fill the gaps in their knowledge and join the mainstream education programme to obtain qualifications and compete successfully on the labour market. I will continue to study this and other good practices that can be promoted and implemented in other countries.

Right to Development and the Situation of Vulnerable Persons

Turing to the national aspects of the implementation of the right to development, in the implementation of my mandate I aim to pay special attention to the inclusion of the most disadvantaged groups in all decision making and related sustainable development processes. I also aim to pay special attention to the gender dimensions of my work, considering the developmental challenges that women and girls face in most societies. Therefore, I will share my observations in relation to the situations of women, persons with disabilities, persons living in poverty and other vulnerable parts of the population.

On a positive note, social protection has a very strong legal foundation in Switzerland – the Constitution establishes the basis for strong social security, fair working conditions; support and protection to families and children; suitable accommodation on reasonable terms; rights to education, assistance and care. The social protection institutions are well developed and functional. I was encouraged to hear of the efforts made to give effect to the right to education of children from Yenish, Sinti/Manush and Roma communities, while taking into consideration the itinerant way of live of these communities. I was also encouraged to hear about plans to facilitate the integration of young asylum seekers though providing them with coaching, language training and giving them access to the labor market and of the programmes providing integration coaching and training to older refugees and other long-term residents of foreign origin, existing in some cantons.

Nevertheless, according to some data, 615,000 people in the country are affected by poverty and more than 1.2 million are at risk of poverty. A number of those affected by poverty are single parents, families with three or more children and people with little education or training. The high cost of health insurance and housing contribute to their dire situation. Furthermore, I was informed that over the past 15 years, unemployment and disability benefits have been reduced and a large number of people who previously received such benefits, now claim social assistance.

During my visit I learned of the mandate and work of the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights and of the longstanding discussion on the creation of a National Human Rights Institution in Switzerland. I urge the authorities to establish as soon as possible an independent national human rights institution with a broad human rights protection mandate and adequate human and financial resources, in conformity with the Paris Principles.

Gender and the Right to Development

With regard to the gender dimension of the right to development, I am concerned by information received that equality between men and women in Switzerland remains an issue. I was informed that gender role stereotyping remains widespread in Switzerland, and that women remain poorly represented in senior management roles both in the public and in the private sector. According to data from the country's Federal Statistics Office, Swiss women earn 19.6% less than their male counterpart and there is still a substantial difference that cannot be explained by rank or role. In addition, more than half of all women are employed part-time, putting them at a disadvantage in terms of further education, training and social security, and ultimately leading to receiving lower pensions at the end of their working lives. Moreover, many women work low wage jobs in sectors that lack security. This is particularly true of women affected by multiple discrimination and of women with disabilities.

One of the obstacles for women's equal participation in the labour market is the lack of sufficient early childhood care and its substantial cost. According to the OECD, public-sector spending on early childhood education and care in Switzerland is just 0.2% of gross domestic product, while the average in OECD countries is 0.6%. Parents pay between 66% and 38% of childcare costs themselves. Some women find it literally more expensive to work, than to stay home and care for their children. I encourage cantonal authorities to expand the existing early-childhood facilities and to make full use of the federal programmes and funding that can be provided in that regard, in particular in rural areas.

I was encouraged to hear about some of the measures that are being implemented or are planned to address the pay gap. Such measures include, for example, the regulation that allows public procurement contracts to be awarded only to companies that have evidenced that they are providing equal pay for equal work to their employees. I am also going to follow with great interest the implementation of the new legislation requiring companies with more than 100 employees to periodically analyse the gender balance and the equal pay among their employees and to provide a report, which is than subjected to independent evaluation and made public. These measures have the potential to give positive results.

I recommend strengthening the existing equality offices and commissions at the cantonal level and ensuring that they, along with the Federal Office for Gender Equality, are provided with the necessary human and financial resources for their functioning. I encourage the governments at Federal and Cantonal levels to develop and implement measures aimed at achieving the substantive equality of women and men in all areas through the creation of incentives, targeted recruitment and the setting of time-bound goals and quotas, in areas in which women are underrepresented or disadvantaged in both the public and private sectors.

Persons with Disabilities

During my visit, I met with several organisations representing persons with disabilities, who informed me of the challenges that they are facing with regards to their effective participation in economic, political, social and cultural development. I am concerned at the fact that in Switzerland there is no data disaggregated by type of disability in relation to the employment situation of persons with disabilities, nor does such data exist for children with disabilities in the education system at cantonal level. I recall that the 2030 Agenda has recognized disability as a cross-cutting issue, to be considered in the implementation of all of its goals. The Agenda also includes 7 targets and 11 indicators explicitly making reference to persons with disabilities, covering access to education and employment, inclusive education that is sensitive to students with disabilities, the inclusion and empowerment of persons with disabilities, and building the capacity of countries to disaggregate data by disability. I believe that without such data, not only it is impossible to assess the actual human rights situation of persons with disabilities, but it is not possible to work towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

With respect to the education of children with disabilities, schooling is regulated at the cantonal level, which makes it difficult to legislate nationwide and leads to a situation where their integration in the school system differs from canton to canton. I was encouraged by the example of the Canton of Ticino, where the large majority of the children with disabilities are integrated in the mainstream schools and are provided with support in that environment. In contrast, in the Canton of Bern, 80% of the children with disabilities are placed in specialized schools. I recall that according to the Committee of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, only inclusive education can provide both quality education and social development for persons with disabilities, and a guarantee of universality and non-discrimination in the right to education. I encourage the Swiss educational authorities at the federal and cantonal levels to consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations, in all aspects of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of inclusive education policies and programmes.

I was informed that persons with disabilities are more than three times as likely to be unemployed than those without; that there are little or no incentives for employers to hire persons with disabilities (such as quotas in the private sector or tax incentives) and that only the federal administration as an employer needs to meet certain targets concerning the level of employment of persons with disabilities. I was also informed that persons with disabilities often still live in institutions and are not working on the open labour market. Those who do work in the open labour market face issues concerning the financing of reasonable accommodation. Persons with disabilities are worried that if they work more than a certain number of hours, they will lose their invalidity pension. Since they often work for minimum wages, that fear becomes a disincentive to seek work. I am further concerned that the federal non-discrimination law does not adequately protect persons with disabilities against discrimination by private persons in the area of law employment relations and for publicly accessible services.

Overall, my visit to Switzerland has been productive. The above comments are preliminary in nature and are not comprehensive in scope. I will prepare a full and detailed report of the visit and a set of concrete and action-oriented recommendations, which I will present at the 45nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, in September 2020."