A written text summarising the essential facts relating to an international problem, also known as an "Aide-Memoire". Often accompanies a → Diplomatic note or a →Diplomatic demarche in which one State informs another of a specific issue or concern. Return
An approach to international issues involving discussions and negotiations between more than two States. Multilateral fora include such international organisations and bodies as the →United Nations, the →World Trade Organisation, the →European Union and the →Council of Europe.
An ever greater number of international treaties or conventions (→Convention) are negotiated in multilateral structures, reflecting the ongoing process of globalisation. Return
The legal status of a State which permanently or temporarily renounces participation in any armed conflict. The → Hague Conventions of 1907, supported by →Customary international law, define the rights and duties of a neutral State.
Essentially, a neutral State has the following fundamental rights: its territory is inviolable; private companies on its territory may trade freely with the warring States; the freedom of private companies to trade also applies to weapons, munitions and other war materiel.
Neutral States above all have a duty to refrain from participating in armed conflicts between other States. They are expressly prohibited from supporting the belligerents with weapons or troops (and thus cannot take part in a military alliance such as NATO). Furthermore they may not allow warring parties to use their territory for military purposes. Any restrictions they adopt on trade in weapons, munitions and other war materiel must apply equally to all belligerents. Finally, a neutral State must be able to defend its own territory, if necessary by military force.
The status of neutrality is not relevant in the case of economic sanctions. Neutral States may participate in the application of sanctions adopted by the →United Nations, the →European Union or any other group of nations.
Nor is neutrality relevant in the case of military sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. UN military sanctions should not be equated with war as defined in the law on neutrality but rather with legal measures to enforce the decisions of the Security Council on behalf of the international community to restore peace and international security. Thus the Law of Neutrality does not prevent neutral States from participating in sanctions adopted by the Security Council in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Return
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are private-law institutions which carry out their activities independently of State authorities. NGOs can exercise considerable influence on public perceptions of issues and situations and on forming public opinion. They can obtain consultative status within an →International organisation, enter into cooperation agreements, or carry out mandates, e.g. in the context of humanitarian or protection missions. Return
General legal principle according to which national legislation or an international treaty applies in situations arising only after it enters into force.
A law or treaty forbidding certain actions or behaviour can in fact apply only to the future. If the law or treaty were to apply also to situations prior to its entering into force, this would authorise the punishment of acts, which, at the time they were carried out, were not forbidden and therefore legal. Return
From the Latin for envoy, referring to the diplomatic representative of the Holy See, a titular bishop accredited as permanent ambassador to a foreign government (→Diplomatic corps).
The →Vienna Convention of 18 April 1961 on diplomatic relations accords to the Papal Nuncio the same status as an ambassador or head of mission (→Embassy) and the same →Privileges und immunities.
Within the Roman Catholic church the Nuncio also represents the Pope in relations with local church communities. Return
Provision in an →International treaty that allows a member State either to limit its obligations in special cases or allow temporary exemption. Opt-out (also protective) clauses are more common in economic treaties, and are intended as a kind of alarm.
Such clauses make it possible for member States to protect certain priority interests such as public order and security, public health or aspects of national heritage.
There also exist quantitative limitation clauses. For example, the Bilateral Agreements between Switzerland and the →European Union provide for such clauses in the event of an excessive influx of labour from EU member States or of heavy-duty vehicles (in the Agreement on overland transport). Return
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
The OECD is not only devoted to cooperation in the areas of economic and social policy between its member States (notably from Western and Central Europe, North America, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia), but also promotes information exchanges in the area of development aid. Switzerland is a member. Return
Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
The objective of the OSCE is the establishment of a common security area based on such shared values as →Human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The OSCE currently (2008) has 56 member States from Europe, North America and Asia. Switzerland is a member.
The OSCE focuses on →Preventive diplomacy, the prevention of conflicts, crisis management and the strengthening of democratic societies in post-conflict situations. Its comprehensive and co-operative approach to security matters includes political, military, economic and environmental aspects.
The OSCE also serves as a platform for negotiations and for the development of international standards. It has the operational instruments required for action in the field. Return
Peaceful settlement of disputes
Procedures to achieve the peaceful settlement of a dispute between two or more States can take the following forms:
- Negotiation, which is the first and most usual way of resolving disputes. A meeting between the States in question might for example lead to an agreement;
- Procedures involving → Good offices, where a third State mediates between the parties and ensures the material organisation of a meeting (→Facilitation and mediation).
- Conciliation and resolution procedures, where a third State or a conciliation commission proposes a solution to the parties concerned, which is not binding.
- Inquiries which in principle, serve to establish the facts only.
- In the case of an arbitration procedure a panel of individuals designated by the parties has the power to make a final decision, which is binding.
- The States concerned may also submit the case to the International Court of Justice, whose decisions are binding (→International justice).
International peacekeeping operations are an instrument of the international community for use in conflict resolution and crisis management. Both civil and military means may be employed to create stable and peaceful relations. Since the end of the Cold War such operations have further developed and today often involve a much wider variety of tasks, including peacekeeping and peace enforcement, conflict prevention, peacebuilding and humanitarian operations. Peacekeeping operations are usually based on a UN mandate, and are guided by the three principles of impartiality, agreement of the parties in conflict to the deployment of a peacekeeping force, and the minimum use of force. Return
Pacta sunt servanda
Latin expression meaning "Treaties are to be honoured", i.e. States and →International organisations must carry out or comply with the provisions of the treaties to which they are party. This principle is one of the main pillars of the international legal system. It is to be found in the Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties of 1969 and 1986, which state that: "Any treaty in force binds the Parties and must be executed by them in good faith." Return
Persona non grata
Latin expression denoting a representative of a State who is no longer acceptable to the receiving State. The receiving State may at any moment and without explanation inform the sending State that the head of its diplomatic mission or any member of the diplomatic staff has been deemed 'persona non grata'. The sending country must then recall this person or terminate his or her activities. Failing this, the receiving State has the right to expel the individual in question. Return
When the representatives of States meet, protocol requires that a certain ranking order be followed. In other words, at a ceremony, procession or reception, precedence accords the right of each participant to occupy the particular position considered to reflect his or her ranking. For example, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has precedence over the ambassadors, and the Dean (Doyen) of the diplomatic corps has precedence over other heads of mission. Return
Since the end of the Cold War the international community has tried to establish, notably through the →United Nations and the →Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a system to give early warning of international tensions that could lead to war. At times of crisis these organisations propose measures to defuse the situation to the States concerned. If necessary, procedures to resolve the conflict peacefully are prepared (→Peaceful resolution of conflicts). Return
Privileges and immunities
Prerogatives, tax exemptions and other facilities accorded to members of the →Diplomatic staff and their families as well as to individuals enjoying an equivalent status (for example →International civil servants).
These privileges and immunities include the freedom of communication between the diplomatic mission (→Embassy) and the authorities of the sending State; the →Inviolability of diplomatic staff, i.e. they may not be arrested or detained; the inviolability of diplomatic premises, i.e. the local authorities may not have access without the authorisation of the head of the diplomatic mission; immunity of jurisdiction, i.e. legal action against a diplomatic agent or his/her family is not permitted; tax concessions.
Privileges and immunities are not accorded for the personal benefit of the individuals concerned but rather to enable them to perform their duties in complete independence of the receiving State.
Those who enjoy such privileges and immunities are expected to respect the laws of the host country (Article 41 of the →Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Article 55 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations). Return
Prohibition of the use of force
The United Nations Charter (→United Nations) forbids States from resorting to armed force. War is prohibited as a matter of principle. The UN Charter does however permit the use of force in two specific instances:
- A State has the right to self-defence and to use military means to repel an armed attack on its territory until such time as the Security Council has taken the appropriate measures.
- States may take steps to maintain or restore international peace by force with the express authorisation of the Security Council on the basis of a →Resolution under the terms of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
A protecting power steps in when two States involved in a conflict break off diplomatic and/or consular relations. With the agreement of the concerned parties a third State, or protecting power, takes on some of the functions of the diplomatic mission of one of the conflicting parties in the territory of the other, protects its citizens living in that State and represents its interests. Such services enable the two States concerned to maintain relations at the minimum level.
Having already fulfilled a number of protecting power mandates in World War I, Switzerland found itself much in demand in World War II due to its →Neutrality. It represented the interests of 35 States, including the warring Great Powers, with over 200 individual mandates. During the Cold War the number of mandates fluctuated between just four (in 1948) and 24 (in 1973). Today, the classical role of protecting power has lost much of its former significance. Switzerland currently holds four mandates, representing the United States in Cuba, Cuba in the USA, Iran in Egypt and the USA in Iran. Return
The term protocol has two distinct meanings. In the most common sense, it applies to all the forms, uses and practices of a ceremonial nature that the States and their representatives observe in their diplomatic relations. The protocol service in a ministry of foreign affairs is responsible for dealing with such matters.
The protocol (final protocol, or additional protocol) refers to an international treaty which is complementary to a main treaty. For example, the Additional Protocols I and II of June 8, 1977 to the →Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949. Return
The principle of reciprocity plays a central role in international relations. In practice this means that a State confers rights and advantages on another State only in exchange for the same privileges. Nevertheless, for obvious humanitarian reasons, the terms of treaties concerning human rights and international humanitarian law must be applied by the States parties in all situations, even when other States parties do not respect the obligations contained in the treaty. Return
Recognition by an existing State of a newly created State (State = population + territory + government). In recognising a newly independent State, an existing State expresses its readiness to establish and maintain diplomatic relations at the intergovernmental level with the newly created State.
In principle Switzerland recognises only States, not governments. Recognition by Switzerland is therefore not affected by any changes in the government or organisation of the State. A newly independent State does not have an inalienable right to recognition. Recognition is a voluntary act by other States which may be conditional. Return
Declaration made by a State party to a multilateral treaty by which it announces its intention to exclude or change the application of a clause in the treaty. Reservations enable more States to become party to the treaty but are not conducive to its uniform application. Treaties may exclude the possibility of reservations, or limit them. Return
Decisions taken by an →International organisation and international conferences are called resolutions. Resolutions have a standardised format. They begin with a Preamble, which is followed by a number of operative paragraphs. Most resolutions are not legally binding but have the character of a recommendation as is the case of the resolutions of the General Assembly of the →United Nations (with the exception of those concerning the UN’s internal law). Some resolutions of the United Nations Security Council can also have immediate effect and be binding on all States. Return
All measures (diplomatic, economic or military) taken by a State or an →International organisation to bring about an end to a violation of international law. Violations can either be noted by an organisation or by a State which considers itself to be a victim.
The →UN Security Council, on behalf of the international community, is responsible for declaring what sanctions are to be taken against a State which is endangering international peace.
The →World Trade Organisation decides on sanctions in cases of violations of international trade rules.
In other areas, States may take whatever non-military sanctions they deem necessary providing they are in appropriate proportion to the damage inflicted by the offending State. The →Prohibition of the use of force is enshrined in the UN Charter. Sanctions may only be implemented only after due notification. Return
At the international level a State is regarded as sovereign if it is independent of all other entities subject to international law (States or →International organisations). Consequently it has no obligations except those it entered into itself and those imposed by →International law. Return
Representatives of a State charged with the task of travelling to a third State to negotiate an →International treaty, discuss a matter of mutual interest, or carry out another specific duty. Such missions are temporary and generally of limited duration. The individuals entrusted with such missions essentially enjoy the same →Privileges and immunities as the diplomatic staff of an →Embassy. Return
Principle according to which political decisions must be taken at a level as close as possible to the people. An issue is referred to higher instances only if it cannot be resolved suitably at a lower level. Most federal States include this principle in their constitutions. This enables a division of tasks between federal and state/cantonal powers (see Art. 3 of the Swiss Federal Constitution). Article 3B of the Treaty on the →European Union has made this a basic principle of community action. Return
The UN is an →International organisation of truly global reach. It has 192 member States (summer 2008) and provides a forum for the discussion of all topics of international significance.
The UN promotes international peace and security, the defence of →Human rights, the reduction of social inequalities, the protection of the environment, and it provides humanitarian aid in international emergencies.
The main organs of the United Nations are the following:
- The General Assembly (representatives of the member States), which deliberates on matters of international order;
- The Security Council (15 member States), which is responsible for defending international peace and security;
- The Secretariat, which is responsible for administrative matters and implementing the decisions of the other organs;
- The International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial organ of the UN.
The United Nations System also includes a many specialized agencies which are legally independent →International organisations linked to the United Nations System through special agreements (for example, the World Health Organisation (WHO)).
Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations in 2002. Before that date (since 1948) the Confederation only had observer status though it was a member of many specialized agencies.
Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations
Two →Treaties of the greatest importance for international diplomacy were signed in Vienna: the 1961 Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Convention on Consular Relations. Return
Like the →International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank is one of the so-called "Bretton Woods institutions" (place of the founding conference). Switzerland belongs to both organisations.
The World Bank was founded in 1944 to combat poverty. Its instruments include the granting of long-term loans, the transfer of knowledge, the strengthening of infrastructures and the setting of up partnerships with both public and private sector organisations. Return
World Trade Organisation (WTO)
The WTO was founded in 1995 as the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was established just after the Second World War. The WTO is thus one of the newest →International organisations. It currently has 151 members (2008), including Switzerland. The main aim of the WTO is to promote and harmonise international trade.
The WTO administers existing trade agreements, serves as a forum for the negotiation of new agreements, provides technical assistance and training to developing countries in the field of trade policy, monitors national trade policies, and helps settle trade disputes.
In situations of alleged violations of trade rules, WTO members agree to the →Peaceful settlement of disputes through the multilateral system rather than imposing unilateral economic sanctions. They also agree to abide by the decisions of the WTO Disputes Settlement Body. Return