Cecile Buehlmann, MP Vice-president of the Federal Commission against Racism
the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Durban, August 31st to September 7th
Madam High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Madam Chairperson of the World Conference
Thank you for the occasion to speak on behalf of a national specialised institution against racism.
The Swiss Federal Commission against Racism FCR gives great value to the documents that hopefully this Conference will deliver. Rightly, the programme of action stipulates that, in each country, a national Human Rights or specialised Institution against Racism should be created. The FCR.endorses the points established in the programme of action, namely the independence to be given to such a body; the right to appear before court; the allocation of funds to it.
Let me share with you some of the experience our Commission has gained in the six years of its existence. The FCR is one of the few institutions which concentrate their activities specifically on racism. This does not mean, however, that we are not closely linked to bodies watching other Human Rights issues such as the protection of the child and discrimination against women.
Which form should a national specialised institution be given? I would consider the institution's independence to be the most crucial point. Governments might be tempted to use the specialised institution as a show-piece for a successful human rights policy. At the same time, authorities often are shying away from implementing anti-racist measures. Such an alibi function of the specialised body has to be clearly refused. The national specialised institution must be allowed to tackle any field or topic or case it wishes. It must have the freedom to raise its voice - even against government decisions and policies, and even against politicians some of whom are quick to denounce the Institution's independent ways. Independence calls for financing which enables the institution to take independent action. In Switzerland, the Federal Commission against Racism is on the safe side by being financed by the government. In other countries, Parliament might be the more faithful partner. The funds at our disposal, however, do not suffice to launching public campaigns or in-depth education programmes against racism. The FCR thus has to look out for partners in civil society: employers, associations and the like. Such joint venture also means joint efforts against racism, and therefore is a good thing.
Let me turn to the assistance offered to the victims of racism. A Commission's asset naturally lies in the diversity its members represent and in the multiplicatory role it can play in society. In comparison to an Ombudsman, however, a Commission's position is less anchored in the judicial system. In Switzerland, the FCR is not allowed to act in court, nor does it issue any binding decisions in the case of litigation. The FCR mainly can offer its professional experience and its good services when people seek the Commission's advice or mediation. Our aim is, with the assistance of the government and the NGOs, to create a dense network for victims of racism and discrimination in order to offer counselling and mediation to everybody in need of it.
Another important point is reporting and monitoring. The Federal Commission against Racism has found that its reports on hot topics in migration policy, on the dangers of a segregated society, or on Anti-Semitism are well heard and widely commented by the media. But often, they are only reluctantly received by the government, and frequently contested by the right wing parties. This echo shows the need for such reports. By denouncing racist tendencies in society the Commission fulfils its most important duty, namely to be a warning voice, at the vanguard to promote Human Rights and the fight against Racism.
In this role, the FCR will see to it that the Government will take in hand the implementation of the programme of action on national level. In March, the FCR has organised a national conference in order to promote the results of the Strasbourg Conference and to spread the knowledge about would be happening in Durban. We believe that the programme of action is packed with powerful guidelines for the future and we will be there and do our job to realise them.