Human rightsPublished on 09.11.2022

Federalism as an opportunity for human rights?


The Swiss cantons are responsible for numerous areas relevant to human rights – from policing to education and social welfare. The national implementation of international human rights treaties, such as the Convention against Torture, therefore often also falls under their responsibility. At the international level, however, and especially in the reporting procedures on international human rights treaties, they are represented by the federal government. This requires considerable communication and coordination between the different levels of government, which sometimes leads to challenges. But could the very federal state structure also be an opportunity for human rights? Could federalism improve the implementation of human rights in Switzerland?

With this in mind, the idea of a human rights peer review for the Swiss cantons was presented in Bern on 3 November 2022. The idea is drawn from the final publication of the Swiss Competence Center for Human Rights (SCHR) [available in French and German] and was inspired by the Universal Periodic Review procedure in the UN Human Rights Council. In this procedure, UN member states assess each other with regard to the human rights situation in their state and give recommendations for improvement. Transferring this procedure to the national level, Swiss cantons would review each other and could, in particular, share best practices and exchange on common difficulties. In addition, valuable information for the reporting procedures on international human rights treaties would be gathered. Finally, and in a broader context, by implementing this project, Switzerland could take on a pioneering role in realizing the potential of multilevel human rights protection.

At the event, which was jointly organized by IFF, SCHR and an SNF research team from the University of Lausanne, representatives from the cantons, the federal government, academia and civil society discussed the idea of a Swiss human rights peer review. The proposal met with broad interest and led to lively discussions.

For further information and project inquiries, please contact Delilah von Streng, Research Fellow at SKMR (contact).