In 2019, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs developed Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. The document contains “specific courses of action to provide efficient and consistent support to HRDs”.
The document defines Switzerland’s approach to supporting human rights defenders (HRDs or defenders) on an international level. It specifies the role that can be played by Switzerland in the protection of human rights defenders. The document stated that “Switzerland is committed to the rights of HRDs, regardless of where they are located.” It also defines the role of embassies, consulates and cooperation offices, listing concrete measures that professionals working in these embassies are encouraged to follow. This includes drawing protection programmes for defenders, publicly denouncing human rights violations, supporting and involving local civil society in decisions surrounding defenders and information gathering and reporting. In the annexes, concrete examples of situations are included, as well as names and websites of organization that can be contacted in case of emergency.
Similar legislation has been implemented by other countries, mainly European ones that have developed a separate implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (other examples include Norway, the United Kingdom, Switzerland). Protection International does not consider this kind of legislation as a national policy for the protection of human rights defenders, first of all because guidelines are not binding. Secondly, because such guidelines are not applied to human rights defenders within the country that adopts it. Nevertheless, these measures aim at contributing to an enabling environment for human rights defenders in countries where Switzerland works on foreign missions, as they provide a focal point on the ground dedicated to provide assistance to human rights defenders by (amongst other activities) facilitating spaces for discussion or providing ad hoc support to human rights defenders in need.