The 46th session of the HRC opened on 22 February with the high-level segment, which included an address by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis. A record number of over 120 dignitaries spoke during this segment, which took place virtually for the first time. In his speech as host country representative, Federal Councillor Cassis highlighted how the pandemic had demonstrated the critical importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms – from the right to life, health and education to the freedom of access to reliable information. Alongside other ministers, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs also participated in a high-level panel discussion on the death penalty, during which he reiterated Switzerland's commitment to the universal abolition of the death penalty.
The two Swiss-led initiatives proved successful. A first resolution on the environment, presented in cooperation with Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco and Slovenia, allowed for the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment for a three-year period. The second Swiss initiative, presented together with an interregional group of 24 States, calls for the participation of all UN Member States in March 2022, including States without a permanent mission in Geneva.
During the session, Switzerland also expressed its position on the human rights situation in a number of countries, emphasising the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. In this context, it noted the alarming increase in attacks on (women) human rights defenders, protesters and journalists around the world. Switzerland also pursued its engagement in the fight against impunity by supporting efforts to document all alleged violations of international law so that perpetrators can be held accountable. In this regard, it supported the resolution on Belarus calling on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to examine alleged human rights violations committed since May 2020. Furthermore, Switzerland supported the renewal of the mandates of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
Switzerland also seized the opportunity of dialogues with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and with UN experts to express its views on the human rights situation, particularly in Burundi, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, the occupied Palestinian territory, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Yemen. Following the seizure of power by the Myanmar military authorities and the special session of the HRC held on 12 February, Switzerland also reiterated its concerns during this session. It supported several joint statements initiated by other States on the human rights situation in Belarus, Egypt, the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Russia and Venezuela.
Thanks to its work carried out virtually, the HRC was able to maintain its capacity to act to mitigate the human rights consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to respond to current human rights situations around the world. While one third of the HRC membership is renewed each year, this 46th session also marked the return of States as members of the HRC, including China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom, as well as the re-engagement of the United States as an observer State.
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