International legal bases for combating terrorism

In combating terrorism, States must recognise certain limits: they are required to respect human rights and international law in general. The legal bases they are required to comply with in this context derive from customary international law, international treaty law and international conventions on the protection of human rights and the rights of refugees as well as humanitarian law. The fundamental rules governing the use of force are set out in the Charter of the United Nations. 

The kinds of legal instruments in force

International efforts to fight terrorism today are based on numerous international agreements and treaties, including:

  • conventional agreements on cross-border crime
  • bilateral legal assistance and extradition treaties and treaties on police cooperation between Switzerland and other states
  • specific United Nations conventions and resolutions on terrorism

At the UN, decisions on fighting terrorism are taken primarily by the General Assembly and the Security Council. In addition, more than 20 UN organisations deal with the prevention and combating of terrorism. In September 2006, the General Assembly, building on a report of the UN Secretary-General, adopted a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

16 conventions and protocols open to all States

In the course of the past 40 years the UN has adopted 16 universal conventions and protocols to combat specific forms of terrorism. Switzerland has ratified all of them.

An ad hoc committee of the UN General Assembly has been negotiating a comprehensive convention for the suppression of international terrorism since 2000. It is intended to close existing gaps in the efficient combating of terrorism.

However, the negotiations have been stuck for some time over the disputed question of the extent to which the convention should apply to government armed forces and liberation movements. Switzerland supports early resumption of the negotiations and hopes that it will be possible to sign a convention on due respect for human rights and international humanitarian law in the near future.

United Nations Security Council resolutions

The UN Security Council has repeatedly designated terrorism as a threat to world peace and international security. Different resolutions obligate UN member states to suppress and combat terrorism as well as the financing of terrorism (Resolutions 1267, 1373 and 1540).

The Security Council has imposed financial and travel sanctions on members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and on persons connected to them. Switzerland has incorporated these obligations into Swiss law. It also provides other states with technical support in implementing these resolutions. Different committees monitor the implementation of these resolutions. Switzerland collaborates closely with them.

Switzerland has submitted proposals to the Security Council to improve the counter-terrorism measures while at the same time preserving human rights.

Measures adopted by the Council of Europe

Since 11 September 2001, the Council of Europe has also paid greater attention to combating terrorism. Its focus is on preserving human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In November 2001, the Council of Europe decided to establish a multidisciplinary Working Group Terrorism. Since February 2003, a group of experts (CODEXTER) has been working on further developing legal instruments against terrorism. Switzerland is an active participant in these negotiations.

To date, the Council of Europe has adopted three conventions against terrorism. These complement earlier conventions of the Council of Europe on legal assistance in criminal cases and extradition. They close gaps in areas that have not been regulated at the universal level.

Another significant addition is the Council of Europe’s Guidelines on human rights and the fight against terrorism adopted on 15 July 2002, which constitute an important practical complement to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Cooperation with the European Union

Switzerland cooperates with the European Union (EU) in the fight against terrorism:

  • Within Europol: exchange of information, operational and strategic analysis of terrorist structures, advice and support in investigations and the stationing of police liaison officers
  • On security cooperation within the Schengen Agreement: police cooperation, judicial assistance in criminal cases