Human rights at the centre of the fight against poverty and humanitarian aid

Article, 10.12.2017

On the occasion of Human Rights Day on 10 December 2017, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) takes stock of its efforts to promote human rights. The SDC aims to promote these rights in all its activities by adopting a people-centred approach while enhancing compliance with human rights obligations by duty bearers and strengthening people's ability to exercise their rights.

A long queue of people waiting in front of a polling station in Tunisia. A person in the foreground is wrapped in a Tunisian national flag.
Tunisia, October 2011 © SDC/Piette Terdjman

10 December marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. In light of current and persistent authoritarian abuses and reprehensible measures taken in the fight against terrorism, efforts to strengthen human rights are as essential today as they were in 1948. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this year's Human Rights Day is therefore an opportunity for the SDC to take stock of its engagement for human rights.

Human rights and development are mutually reinforcing. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Dispatch on Switzerland's International Cooperation 2017–2020 and the FDFA Human Rights Strategy 2016–19 underscore both at the global and national levels the essential role of human rights in promoting peaceful, just and inclusive societies. The importance of human rights is also reflected in the role they play in sectoral and political dialogue with our partner countries and in the SDC's statements in international bodies.

The SDC strengthens human rights actors and key mechanisms in its partner countries, for example through its support for a national human rights commission in Afghanistan, a juvenile justice programme in Bosnia and civil society organisations in Honduras.

SDC activities in facts and figures

The SDC invests substantial financial resources in programmes designed to promote human rights at various levels. Its long-term commitment in partner countries is based on thorough analyses of our partner countries’ contexts and aligned with needs and priorities. In 2017, the SDC is running 52 human rights programmes with an overall budget of between CHF 37 and 40 million. The majority of these programmes concern Africa (including the Middle East) and South Asia. The SDC's priority regions are the Great Lakes, the occupied Palestinian territory and Nepal. The SDC carries out most of its activities through programmes implemented by partners (international, Swiss, local NGOs and UN agencies alike).

Looking at human rights-related programmes from a broader perspective, the SDC is active in 271 programmes that contribute directly or indirectly to human rights, and has earmarked a substantial sum of over CHF 340 million for this purpose for 2017. These projects encompass traditional human rights activities such as providing support for institutions that facilitate electoral processes, as well as projects that promote freedom of the press and civic education programmes. In addition, one of the key priorities of humanitarian aid is to protect the most vulnerable in situations of natural disasters and armed conflict.


The activities outlined above demonstrate just how necessary and relevant the promotion of human rights remains 69 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Strengthening and promoting compliance with human rights and the rule of law is an important contribution made by the SDC to peace and state-building in partner countries. In this way, the SDC also helps to develop their economies and political systems and thereby to reduce fragility and violence and the causes of migrations. Promoting human rights and the rule of law is and will continue to be a long-term operational and strategic priority for the SDC, especially in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.