In his opening speech to the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (25.2.2013), Mr Burkhalter said that the continuing violence in Syria had devastating effects on the population in the country, especially on children. He strongly condemned all the human rights violations that have taken place in Syria. He also welcomed the recent recommendations of the commission of inquiry on Syria of the Human Rights Council on Syria, of which Swiss national Carla Del Ponte is a member. In its report of 18 February 2013 it detailed the extent and the gravity of the violations committed by all sides. He welcomed the commission’s proposal to the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Switzerland made this proposal to the UN Security Council in a letter signed by 58 states in the middle of January.
Mr. Burkhalter made a good speech and he seems determined in his job and ambitious. He should get along with Ms. Simonetta Sommaruga (head of the Department of Justice in charge of the Federal Office Migration). They actually do get along. I suggest therefore that they discuss about one matter : why do Syrian asylum-seekers wait so long to receive protection in Switzerland (asylum status or provisional admission). The Federal Office of Migration has worked on a priority basis : they deal first with Dublin or safe third country cases and they leave the real asylum-seekers -those who have good grounds to come to Switzerland- in limbo. Syrians are just an example, other serious cases (from Somalia, Iran) have been left unnoticed for years now. It is a shame. They put these cases on a stand-by pile and forget it. The shadow piles are huge.
In the last few months several deportations took place from the Administrative Detention Institution of Frambois (Geneva) despite all the human rights reports on impunity, forced disappearances and harrassment of ex-LTTE members on behalf of the Cinghalese authorities, military and security forces.
Why is that?
Human Rights Watch recently published a report on several cases of torture committed on deported rejected asylum-seekers which forced the UK authorities to stop the deportation of several Tamils (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/judge-halts-deportation-of-tamils-in-fear-of-torture-7811564.html). And recently, Navi Pillay, head of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, expressed great critics against the lack of Colombo’s scrutiny into past and recent human rights abuses. On February 11, 2013, her office published its report on Sri Lanka (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A-HRC-22-38_en.pdf) which details concern in several areas, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, militarisation and land grabs. Navi Pillay encouraged the Human Rights Council to continue to increase its engagement on Sri Lanka and called for an international investigation into alleged human rights violations. But more recently, a documentary produced by Channel 4: No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, realised by Callum Macrae (2013), has been under great fire of Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha. He simply asked that the projection of the documentary at the UN be cancelled. He also asked that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty’s accreditation at the UN be suspended. But the film will neither be cancelled nor will the NGOs be suspended, it will be projected at the Human Rights Film Festival in Geneva (Grütli) on March 3 and 6.
Public declarations by high ranking Swiss officials and by high ranking UN officials like Navi Pillay, as well as the projection of human rights documentaries at film festivals should definitely give our Swiss Asylum Authorities the courage to take action in order to provide a better assistance to people who have endured great human rights abuses and to those who might probably endure more suffering on their return.
Navi Pillay’s speech can be viewed on http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44216. Enjoy!