Press release of 17 July 2019

No sustainable development without civil society

How should Switzerland approach to its international cooperation in the future? The Federal Council has submitted its proposed strategy together with an explanatory report for public consultation. Swiss Church Aid (HEKS/EPER) is commenting on the proposal and underlining that the empowerment of civil society is receiving far too little attention. A current study commissioned by HEKS/EPER shows that without a fully engaged civil society, the development goals of the 2030 Agenda are doomed to fail.

HEKS/EPER welcomes the opportunity to offer a view on the proposed international cooperation strategy for 2021-2024. The Confederation lays out four specific goals that are to be the focus of international cooperation in the years ahead: promoting sustainable economic growth, fighting climate change, reducing irregular migration and fostering peace, the rule of law and gender equality. HEKS/EPER welcomes these goals as they all contribute to sustainable development within the meaning of the 2030 Agenda.
Zivilgesellschaft in Bedrängnis
Sean Hawkey/ACT Alliance

HEKS/EPER underlines, however, that the rule of law and good governance are preconditions for attaining the other goals of international cooperation. Therefore, one crucial demand by HEKS/EPER is for a stronger focus on protecting and empowering civil society, which is currently witnessing severe and growing limitations on its scope for action around the world. Just 4 per cent of the world's population still live in countries where they are able to express their opinions freely, to assemble, and to enjoy access to a free press.

When criticism is silenced, when people are penalized for getting involved, and when freedom of opinion and assembly is drastically curtailed, the impact on political, social and economic life is negative. HEKS/EPER together with two partners from Act Alliance have jointly prepared a study illustrating that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are doomed to fail in the absence of a committed civil society. Worse yet, the study shows that progress already made in overcoming poverty, hunger and inequality is being jeopardized by the imposition of political and legal constraints on civil society.

HEKS/EPER is therefore calling for the protection of fundamental civil rights and the empowerment of a diverse and inclusive civil society to be incorporated into Goal 4 of the federal proposal as a basic prerequisite for inclusive and sustainable development. In its international cooperation the Swiss Government should commit to promoting human rights and democratic processes in order to arrest the global trend towards diminishing civil rights. Besides, the Confederation should be more forthright in championing the protection of human rights defenders and the fight against impunity. Both in Switzerland and in partner countries, cooperation with civil society must be conceived for the long term and foster mutual trust.

For it is thanks to civil society players that the poor and underprivileged can have a say as well as a share in the fruits of development, rather than the privileged alone. For many years HEKS/EPER has championed the cause of civil society empowerment in its project countries. HEKS/EPER supports project partners that help underprivileged people claim their rights, at the local, national and international levels.

Doing more before rather than after

HEKS/EPER furthermore considers it important for Switzerland to formulate measures against climate change as well as buttress the resilience of those being affected by climate change such that they can cope on their own with ever more frequent and severe catastrophic events. Boosting resilience and disaster preparedness are long-term strategies and should therefore be addressed more through development cooperation than through humanitarian aid. HEKS/EPER therefore welcomes the Confederation's priority focus on «climate change», but is calling for additional funding, outside the framework of the federal proposal on international cooperation, e.g. by means of the CO2 tax, as the Federal Council had originally promised.

Insufficient funding

The planned ODA allocation of 0.45 per cent of gross national product (0.4 per cent when the questionable asylum costs are subtracted) contradicts the Federal Council's oft repeated target of 0.7 per cent. HEKS/EPER believes that it would befit Switzerland, as one of the winners of globalization, to raise the allocation to 0.7 per cent – other nations like Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden or the United Kingdom are investing 1.0 per cent in a prosperous future for the world. HEKS/EPER therefore urges the Confederation to take its own promises seriously and raise the allocation to 0.7 per cent by the end of 2024. Its longer-term target should be 1.0 per cent.

Bettina Filacanavo
Bettina Filacanavo

Phone: +41 44 360 88 24
Mobile: +41 76 461 88 70

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