Case study

A red line for Switzerland !

Petition Freihandelsabkommen mit China Petition Freihandelsabkommen mit China

On the 1st of July, ten years will have passed since the free trade agreement between Switzerland and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) came into force. In these ten years, the human rights situation in China has worsened dramatically. There has been a sharp rise in repression against the Tibetan and Uyghur population in particular. In the text of the free trade agreement, there is not a single word about human rights. At the request of the business community, Switzerland now wants to extend the agreement, primarily to include additional tariff exemptions for the chemicals and machinery industries. Together with the organizations Campax, Uigurischer Verein Schweiz,  Gesellschaft Schweizerisch-Tibetische Freundschaft und Verein Tibeter Jugend, the Society for Threatened Peoples calls for a clear red line: No further development of the free trade agreement without substantial incorporation of human rights!

“The Chinese state has tortured me and 100,000 other people. Switzerland’s intention to now intensify trade with China without addressing human rights is a no-go. To prevent this, please sign the petition to the Swiss Federal Council.”

Gulbahar Haitiwaji, eyewitness to the Chinese detention camps

 

Sign petition

 

The Federal Constitution clearly states the following: Swiss foreign policy must promote respect for human rights, democracy and the peaceful coexistence of peoples (article 54 para. 2). We call on the Federal Council to fulfil this obligation, also in its negotiations on further development of the free trade agreement with the PRC, because Swiss trade policy has to be in line with the Federal Constitution and comply with human rights.

Switzerland’s separate path: Switzerland is the only continental European country to have signed a free trade agreement with the PRC. While its closest trading partners in Europe and the USA are increasingly adapting their foreign policy strategies and imposing sanctions, so as to hold the Chinese government to account for its massive human rights violations, Switzerland continues to prioritise trade interests over human rights.

Support our petition: Guy Parmelin, Minister of Economic Affairs, wants to travel to Beijing this summer, in order to strengthen ties with the PRC. We want to give him a clear red line to bear in mind on his trip: In the negotiations, further development of the free trade agreement must be out of the question without human rights.

Our specific demands:
Article 54 para. 2 of the Federal Constitution must be defined as a red line for the negotiations on further development of the bilateral free trade agreement.

For a successful human rights policy with regard to the PRC, it is crucial that concerns be presented coherently and consistently “at all levels”, as the Federal Council itself has called for in its China Strategy 2021-24.

Consequently, Switzerland’s fundamental values, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, must also apply to free trade agreements.

Why is this important?

Xi Jinping has headed the government of the People’s Republic of China since 2013. One year after he came to power, the bilateral free trade agreement with Switzerland came into force. In the ten years that have passed since then, the human rights situation in the PRC has drastically deteriorated further. The Chinese government is taking particularly brutal action against the Tibetan and Uyghur communities. Tibetans continue to be severely oppressed in everyday life. In spring 2024, when there were protests against the planned construction of a hydroelectric power plant (which, in order to become operational, would require several villages and Tibetan monasteries of great historical significance to be flooded) over a thousand people, including nuns and monks, were arrested. Up to a million Tibetan school pupils aged 4 and above, meaning over 80 percent of all school-age Tibetan children, are forced to attend boarding schools far away from their families, where they are only taught Chinese language and culture. As a result, a generation is growing up that neither speaks Tibetan nor has any connection to its own cultural background.

The situation in East Turkestan (in Chinese: Xinjiang) has also become immensely worse. The imprisonment of around a million people in so-called ‘re-education camps’ where they are indoctrinated, and sometimes tortured and raped, made headlines around the world. Some of these camps have recently been closed due to international pressure, but even outside of these camps, the Uyghur population is closely monitored and its freedom of movement is severely restricted: Former inmates of the camps are placed under house arrest, sentenced to long prison terms, or subjected to forced labour. It is also documented that the Chinese government is bringing about a dramatic change in the demographic composition of the region by means of forced sterilisations and other birth control measures for Uyghur women.

It is a fact that in the 10 years since the free trade agreement with Switzerland came into force, human rights violations in China have increased considerably. Switzerland should not close its eyes to this development and must finally take responsibility!

 

Sign petition now!

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