The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) has denied requests from a Swiss resident and from NGO Monitor to provide public information about Swiss government funding to the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (the IHL Secretariat), a Ramallah-based framework that distributes 56% of its budget to NGOs that advocate for BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns against Israel.
The FDFA attempted to justify its refusal by claiming: “access to an official document is likely to affect the interests of Switzerland in matters of foreign policy and international relations.”
NGO Monitor has since submitted an appeal to the FDFA, citing the Swiss Federal Act on Freedom of Information in the Administration (Freedom of Information Act, FoIA).
The IHL Secretariat is an intermediary framework that distributes funds to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including to many active in BDS campaigns, and is managed by the Institute of Law at Birzeit University (IoL-BZU) in Ramallah and the NIRAS consulting firm in Sweden.
According to the contract between the Swiss Confederation (represented by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs acting through the Swiss Cooperation Gaza & West Bank office) and NIRAS Natura AB (a consulting firm), the Swiss contribution to the IHL Secretariat amounts to CHF 3 million between December 12, 2013 and September 30, 2017.
Shaun Sacks, Senior Researcher at NGO Monitor’s Europe Desk explains, “The contract’s ‘special provisions’ show that NIRAS has committed to submitting no less than 14 reports that specify operations, finances, and audits of the Secretariat to the FDFA. These evaluations deal with specific periods of Secretariat funding and activities and there is no justification for keeping these documents secret.”
“The central question is why are audits of government financial contributions to a ‘human rights’ framework subject to such secrecy?” continued Sacks. “Those most effected by the funding, including Israelis, Palestinians, and Swiss taxpayers should be able to see how these crucial decisions are made, and how this money is being spent.”