In an exclusive interview with New Europe’s Federico Grandesso at the UN Building in Geneva while on the sidelines of a festival commemorating legendary Italian filmmaker and human rights advocate, Federico Fellini, the President of Swiss the Council of States Jean-René Fournier spoke about the about the current global human rights situation.
New Europe (NE): How do you evaluate the human rights situation today?
Jean-René Fournier (JRF): I see that everywhere on our planet that cases of gross disrespect of human rights are still common and are even increasing in several democratic countries where the (current) aggressive attitude is not a positive development. More and more, we are noticing a major degeneration in this regard when it comes to the huge number of ongoing migrations. In this context, the role of Geneva (UN), the democratic countries, and civil society are going to be increasingly important in the coming years.
NE: How do you see relations with the EU at a time when Europe is being pressured by challenges such as Brexit?
JRF: Switzerland is going through a delicate period because we are negotiating an institutional agreement with the EU which is posing some problems. This situation is revealing the different attitudes regarding the EU in the country. Some are happy about the difficulties the EU is facing at the moment and there are those who are pushing for the destruction of the EU institutions.
My country has to understand, and I think a wide majority of Swiss citizens have already understood, that when Europe is suffering, we are also suffering. We are in the centre of Europe. We share the same values. We live in the same circuit, that’s why any negative event is also affecting us.
In this context, we see in the US the “Make America Great Again’ attitude of President Donald Trump and the growth of the national egoism and at the same time the international ambitions of certain countries. Now, in this chaos, Europe has, in its interest, to stay united around its values. It should not focus too much on what is not working internally but focus on resisting on what’s happening externally in the interest of its own citizens.
We Swiss, we don’t want to impose our model, but to offer it,
NE: Can culture and cinema help raise awareness about human rights?
JFR: Yes, and the figure of Federico Fellini, whom we celebrating here in Geneva, is the best example of this because he is universal. Culture is a value that allows everybody to have mutual respect for one another. This huge diversity that we all bring is the true essence of richness even though sometimes it’s difficult to recognise and accept different opinions from others.
NE: Currently, what is your biggest worry regarding human rights?
JFR: My biggest concern is the large scale of migration. We are only at the beginning of this phenomenon. We had just one or two years of slow down, but we didn’t use this period to get a better picture of the situation. If we look at how the population is growing Africa, it’s movement is of monumental size and sooner or later, in the near future I think, we will be confronted with some major challenges.
For the moment, the search for solutions is very slow and it’s all about how to protect ourselves with walls, like in the US or Hungary, for example. We need to build up an alternative answer which, at the moment, we don’t have. This is an extraordinary challenge where the risk is to turn us inward and become more closed to protect ourselves.
Personally, I don’t think this a sustainable way to go.
NE: What could be a solution for such a huge global issue?
JFR: At this very moment, I think that the issue of human rights can help us understand what we can do and what we can’t do. It can act as a common thread that will be difficult to follow, and there will be a price to pay, but we should be diverted from this path.