Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

"The law of the powerful is stronger today than 20 years ago"

On 12 August 2020, the Federal Council adopted a voluntary report on the implementation of international humanitarian law by Switzerland. In interviews with Le Temps and CH Media, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis stressed the report's importance and explained why Switzerland is leading by example.

 Photomontage with Ignazio Cassis looking into the camera and two speech bubble icons with question marks and answer to represent an interview.

Ignazio Cassis in interview with Le Temps and CH Media, talking about the voluntary report on the implementation of international humanitarian law by Switzerland. © FDFA

The global world order has become less stable and conflicts are on the increase. Many of these take place not between two countries but internally among non-state actors. In this difficult global context, international humanitarian law is more important than ever.

We want to send a strong signal to the international community that Switzerland continues firmly to believe in international humanitarian law, no matter if it is increasingly difficult to enforce.

In interviews with Le Temps and CH Media, Mr Cassis spoke in favour of strengthening international humanitarian law and stressed that such voluntary reporting promotes intergovernmental debate on best practice and encourages countries to take the steps needed to ensure compliance. "Writing something down in black and white crystallises it in your mind and gives you purpose. We hope to inspire other countries. We want to send a strong signal to the international community that Switzerland continues firmly to believe in international humanitarian law, no matter if it is increasingly difficult to enforce," he said.

Switzerland leads by example

The idea of a voluntary report on the implementation of international humanitarian law emerged as a result of the 2019 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. "We would have liked to establish a national reporting mechanism on states' implementation of international humanitarian law. However, several states were not prepared to take part in such an exercise," explained Cassis.

Switzerland therefore decided to lead by example and publish its own voluntary report. "To get this signal across, I presented the report to the Federal Council. I wanted the report to be of political significance. I didn't want it to be a technical report. I wanted the Federal Council to collectively take responsibility for this because compliance with international humanitarian law is a priority for the Swiss Confederation," said Cassis.

Nuclear disarmament remains an important goal

For a small country like Switzerland in particular, a stable world order is of great importance. A clear set of rules is thus very much in Switzerland's interest. "Bigger countries with strong armies are less reliant on such rules. The law of the powerful is stronger today than 20 years ago. The world has become less stable as the big states assert their power," explained Cassis.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons also seeks to uphold international humanitarian law and clear international rules. Switzerland has not yet ratified this treaty, although with good reason, according to Cassis. "We want nuclear disarmament. But just because a treaty looks good on paper doesn't mean that it will get us where we want to go. That is why the Federal Council has commissioned an additional report to clarify outstanding questions."

Successful partnerships despite frank dialogue

In addition to the publication of the first voluntary report on the implementation of international humanitarian law, the two interviews addressed other matters of foreign policy including the importance of good bilateral partnerships. "For an export-oriented country like Switzerland, our bilateral approach with the EU is indispensable. By virtue of the 'guillotine clause', the Limitation Initiative would mean the end of this," stressed Mr Cassis, referring to the federal popular initiative 'For moderate immigration' on which Switzerland will vote on 27 September.

Despite challenges and critical differences of opinion, our relations with the People's Republic of China remain friendly.

Moving away from European policy to discuss Switzerland's relationship with China, Mr Cassis stated that Switzerland had always expressed concern about the human rights situation in China, for example the Uighur situation in Xinjiang and the escalating situation in Hong Kong, where the principle of one country, two systems is under threat. "Despite challenges and critical differences of opinion, our relations with the People's Republic of China remain friendly," he said.

Only with well-functioning international relations, clear rules and universal respect for international humanitarian law can we successfully address global challenges together.

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