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States’ Compliance to International Treaties

Louis Bodmer

5. The State’s Perspective

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5.1. State: Switzerland

1This chapter aims to demonstrate the role of the state and how it can develop avenues for diverse actors to improve its own accountability and compliance to its commitments. Switzerland represents a typical case study, yet it is able to demonstrate the relationship between a democratic country and non-state actors pertaining to child rights. This section assesses the pathways provided by the federal state to allow for accountability to be demanded by organizations and citizens. It is important to note the federal structure where the state functions on different levels such as federal, cantonal and municipal. Actually, some of these competencies are shared among the various levels. For instance, education and social security are a shared matter (Linder & Vatter, 2001, pp. 96–98). Therefore, it is likely that some cantonal or municipal legislation differs from others’. I identify the most salient mechanisms while examining reports made by the national government on the state of child rights in the country.

5.1.1. Treaty accountability network (TRAN)

2As the central actor of treaty ratification, it seems obvious that a state will engage with various actors gravitating around it. Thus, Switzerland is one of the actors in the TRAN surrounding the UNCRC and works alongside different organizations. The examination of Switzerland’s case confirms this assumption.

  • 1 The Federal Council is the executive branch of Switzerland

3As mentioned in the law on the encouragement of extracurricular activities for children and youth (Loi fédérale sur l’encouragement des activités extrascolaires des enfants et des jeunes, LEEJ), the Swiss Confederation can participate and create organizations pertaining to this matter in order to achieve the implementation of the law (SFA, 2017, p. 6). Moreover, through these measures, the Federal Council1 aims to bolster networking between private and public actors (SFC, 2010, p. 1). Furthermore, the Federal Council can create national programs, pilot projects to test new strategies and methods, reach out to public or private organizations and collaborate with cantons and other major public and private actors (SFC, 2010, p. 2).

4The government affirms its commitment to international treaties such as the UNCRC (Swiss Confederation, 2008, p. 15), which confirms its willingness to work alongside the various actors related to the Convention. Moreover, the country has acknowledged several reports on the state of the rights of the child in the country submitted by the Committee. Switzerland responded to the remarks made by the Committee and related civil society organizations and NGOs. The state proposed improvements which demonstrate its willingness to engage with the UNCRC as the central actor.

5In the Confederation’s document Pour une politique Suisse de l’enfance et de la jeunesse, the government confirms its willingness to bolster international institutions and the processes of ratification and implementation of and compliance to international treaties such as the UNCRC among other states (Swiss Confederation, 2008, pp. 21–22). Furthermore, it aims to participate in European programs for children and youth and acknowledges the role it can have as a member of the Council of Europe (Swiss Confederation, 2008, pp. 21–22).

6Certain organs of the Confederation, such as the Commission Fédérale pour l’Enfance et la Jeunesse (Federal Commission for Childhood and Youth, CFEJ), which is an emanation of the Department of Home Affairs (SFDHA), are mandated to coordinate and maintain contacts with various groups and organizations working on child rights (SFDHA, 2011, p. 3). The Confederation also recognizes the core role of some actors as providers of information and specific knowledge on child rights (SFDHA, 2014, p. 14).

7The Swiss Federal Council, in replying to the recommendations of the Committee, points out that the government aims to encourage experience sharing and networking between all persons working with and for children (SFC, 2018, p. 31). This is clear evidence of its commitment to and its acknowledgment of the TRAN surrounding the UNCRC.

8Finally, the SFDHA also acknowledges the core role of NGOs and civil society organizations working on child and youth matters and confirms its will to foster and encourage them as well as child rights (SFDHA, 2020a).

5.1.2. Accountability pathways

9The Swiss Confederation has developed several pathways for accountability.

10According to the LEEJ, the Confederation encourages information and exchange of experiences on the topic of child rights policies (SFA, 2017, p. 1; SFA, 2017, p. 6). Moreover, it fosters programs that promote child and youth participation in federal politics (SFA, 2017, p. 4) such as the Session des jeunes which is a federal parliament session where youth can participate (Swiss Confederation, 2008, p. iii).

11An important tool instituted by the Confederation is the CFEJ (article 22 of the LEEJ): the Federal Commission for Childhood and Youth. At least a third of this commission’s members should be under 30 years old. The main duties of this commission are to advise and propose policies to the Federal Council on its policies relating to children and youth; to observe the current situation and propose measures if needed; to verify whether the LEEJ is adapted to the current situation; to examine all related laws and ordinances related to children and youth and mention their consequences; to sensitize public opinion on children and youth and their needs; and, finally, to always accomplish its tasks keeping an equilibrium between protection, encouragement and the participation of children and youth (SFA, 2017, p. 7).

12As mentioned earlier, competency on child and youth rights is shared with the cantons. A federal report commanded by the government identifies good practices from cantons: for instance, the canton of Wallis implemented a cantonal law fostering protection and encouragement of child and youth participation. This law creates a specific commission on the matter and, most interestingly, a youth parliament able to submit demands to the cantonal government and parliament (Swiss Confederation, 2008, p. 3). Another example identified in the document is Fribourg. This canton has also legislated to foster child rights, in this case through the creation of a specific commission working on this topic able to submit proposals to the canton and municipalities (Swiss Confederation, 2008, p. 3). Furthermore, it establishes a youth council able to bring proposals of youth and children to the cantonal authorities (Swiss Confederation, 2008, p. 3).

13Some programs are developed to foster children’s and youths’ participation, to let them speak out about issues they encounter in their lives. For instance, the Easyvote and Speak Out programs go in this direction. Easyvote is a project helping youth to understand voting and politics while the Speak Out project intends to give voice to unaccompanied migrant minors (SFDHA, 2014, p. 29).

14Interestingly, in order to enable fruitful participation and accountability, Switzerland fosters the empowerment of children and youth. In the LEEJ, it mentions clearly that the law aims to encourage extracurricular activities to enable children and youth to become responsible and conscious adults as well as identifying their responsibilities to society and promoting their social, cultural and political involvement (SFA, 2017, p. 1). The role of participation as a tool of empowerment is clearly stated as a key element of empowerment (SFDHA, 2014, p. 12).

15In a broader way, the mention that children’s and youths’ voices should be heard in all cases, either in juridical issues or political issues, is a commitment to accountability to the children and youth population on the part of the authorities (Swiss Confederation, 2008, p. 5).

16Finally, Switzerland recognizes its commitment to the UNCRC and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee has already submitted several reports on the situation of children in the country, accompanied by recommendations and Switzerland has already applied some of these and replied to the questions raised by the Committee (SFC, 2018, p. 17). It also should be noted that Switzerland has ratified the UNCRC as well as its three optional protocols, notably the one enabling children and youth to report directly to the Committee (OP3: Communication Procedure).

5.1.3. Peer accountability

17There is some form of peer accountability in the Swiss case, yet it does not operate in the same manner as for the organizations analyzed above because of the nature of the state. Indeed, the Swiss Confederation promotes exchanges between cantons, municipalities, experts and organizations working for child rights and more generally with children and youth (SFA, 2017, p. 6). It also encourages regional exchanges and networking with people working for and with children (SFA, 2018, p. 31).

18In this case, peer accountability is more about cooperation and discussion and less about blaming others. However, it is possible to understand that, behind this language, peer accountability also means holding each other accountable in a soft manner if an actor is not using acceptable policies.

5.1.4. Synthesis: State

19Switzerland seems to work diligently in order to fulfill its commitments to the UNCRC and its OPs. It fosters all aspects of accountability to the population and organizations, notably through empowerment and participation of children and youth in policy-making at the different federal levels. It seems though that some cantons are more forthcoming than others and offer more possibilities to children and youth to voice their concerns than the Confederation itself. Finally, peer accountability seems to be working in a much more cooperative manner than I first conceptualized.

20Here is a summary table for the main concepts in the case of Switzerland:

Fig. 12: Synthesis table mechanisms: Switzerland


1 The Federal Council is the executive branch of Switzerland


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