Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

Report on international humanitarian law: Switzerland sets a good example

On 12 August 2020 the Federal Council passed a voluntary report on the implementation of international humanitarian law by Switzerland. In doing so, Switzerland wants to set an example and encourage other states to take similar initiatives. This would enhance the inter-state dialogue with the aim of better protecting the victims of armed conflicts worldwide.

This voluntary report evaluates good practices and the main challenges in the implementation of international humanitarian law by Switzerland. @ FDFA

Seventy-one years after the adoption of the Geneva Conventions on 12 August 1949, Switzerland is one of the first states to present a report on the state of implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL). This voluntary report evaluates good practices and the main challenges in the implementation of international humanitarian law by Switzerland. "We want to send a strong signal to the international community that Switzerland continues to firmly believe in international humanitarian law, even though its enforcement is becoming increasingly difficult," explains Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis in an interview at the publication of the report.

It also provides the Interdepartmental Committee for International Humanitarian Law with a blueprint for an action plan setting out concrete measures to strengthen efforts to promote international humanitarian law. Switzerland is one of the first countries to take this step. The action plan foresees for example that Switzerland will help clarify how IHL should be implemented in relation to new technologies. As part of her candidacy for the UN Security Council, Switzerland will also work towards ensuring that the Council takes due consideration of international humanitarian law.

Based on a resolution of the representatives of states parties to the Geneva Conventions

Foreign policy and domestic policy are inextricably linked. Swiss foreign policy is based on democratic dialogue with national actors. The Federal Council is committed to maintaining a dialogue on international humanitarian law with Parliament, the media, academic circles, non-governmental organisations and Swiss citizens. The Federal Council's policy on international humanitarian law is a reflection of Swiss values.

We want to send a strong signal to the international community that Switzerland continues to firmly believe in international humanitarian law, even though its enforcement is becoming increasingly difficult.
Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis

The 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was held in Geneva at the end of 2019. Members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and representatives of states parties to the Geneva Conventions adopted a joint resolution entitled 'Bringing international humanitarian law home', aimed at improving the implementation of international humanitarian law at the national level.

Intergovernmental exchange on good practices and measures

The publication by states of voluntary reports on their efforts to implement international humanitarian law at the national level is a step towards the implementation of this resolution. At his opening address representing Switzerland at the conference, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis called for the strengthening of international humanitarian law, announced Switzerland's first voluntary report and encouraged other states to publish voluntary reports of their own.

International humanitarian law cannot be regarded as merely a good thing. It must be applied, otherwise credibility and implementation will be weakened.
Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis

These kinds of reports enable exchanges between states on best practices and necessary measures to improve implementation of international humanitarian law. "International humanitarian law cannot be regarded as merely a good thing. It must be applied, otherwise credibility and implementation will be weakened. This voluntary report is intended to show how we act. Of course we can always do better, but it is worthwhile to get involved", emphasises Federal Councillor Iganzio Cassis.

Ensuring a minimum level of humanity in armed conflicts

Respecting, strengthening and promoting international humanitarian law are key priorities of Swiss foreign policy. Thanks to its neutrality, humanitarian tradition and role as the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland is able to engage meaningfully in this respect. Geneva has long been the historic centre of humanitarian aid and is now the world capital of humanitarian action. The first Geneva Convention was concluded in 1864 at the initiative of the Swiss government. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are the core of international humanitarian law. Today we are celebrating the 71st anniversary of the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.

International humanitarian law aims to save lives, alleviate suffering and ensure that a minimum of humanity is upheld in armed conflicts. It protects people who are not, or are no longer, involved in hostilities. It also limits the means and methods of warfare in armed conflicts. While international humanitarian law is generally respected, exceptions are still too numerous: executions of civilians, bombing of hospitals, torture, starvation, etc. Violations of international humanitarian law have unacceptable humanitarian consequences. That is why promoting respect for international humanitarian law is all the more important.

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