After witnessing the human disaster following the Battle of Solferino in 1859, Henry Dunant (1828–1910), a native of Geneva, introduced the first measures to protect people caught in situations of armed conflict. His humanitarian initiative led to the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Switzerland's most important strategic humanitarian partner, and to the signing of the first Geneva Convention on 22 August 1864.
The Geneva Conventions – the centrepiece of international humanitarian law – demand that a minimum of human dignity be safeguarded in armed conflicts. While initially the focus of concern was on wounded or sick members of armed forces participating in hostilities, the 1949 Conventions were extended to the protection of civilian populations. International humanitarian law, which also limits the means and methods of conducting warfare, is applicable in every armed conflict and to all parties to a conflict.
Compliance with and the strengthening and promotion of international humanitarian law are priorities of Swiss foreign policy. Switzerland, together with the ICRC, have launched a diplomatic initiative to promote its application in the field and to step up the fight against impunity. Other examples of the search for responses to current challenges include the drafting of a code of conduct for private security companies or the support granted to radio stations active in areas stricken by conflict: in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic for instance, local radios make international law more widely known in the interests of peace and security.
A multifaceted humanitarian commitment
Switzerland's humanitarian commitment also encompasses activities and initiatives in the field of peace policy and human rights policy. Swiss Humanitarian Aid deploys various instruments for the protection of people, including providing financial support for partner organisations such as the ICRC and seconding specialists from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit. Lastly, the “international Geneva” plays an important role as a recognised international centre of competence for humanitarian aid and humanitarian law.