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Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Syria
Due to its geopolitical situation Syria play an important role in the Middle East. The popular uprisings that broke out in 2011 and their violent suppression led to a cooling of relations between Switzerland and Syria. In February 2012, the Swiss Embassy and the SDC Cooperation Office were closed for security reasons.
Political relations between Switzerland and Syria were solid, albeit not close, until the outbreak of the unrest in March 2011. The two countries discussed regional issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq.
Switzerland is seeking a political settlement of the conflict in Syria, it is providing humanitarian aid and is campaigning against impunity in Syria.
The framework conditions for trade between the two countries are based on a trade agreement of 29 November 1976 and have been improved as a result of the conclusion of an investment protection agreement on 1 July 2008, an agreement on scheduled air services of 22 August 2003, and an agreement on international road passenger and freight transport of 5 September 2006.
There were also exploratory talks on a possible double taxation agreement or a joint declaration on cooperation between Syria and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States.
The trade volume remains modest.
Switzerland's commitment has three objectives with respect to the conflict in Syria:
- Humanitarian aid
Switzerland is committed to the protection and support of the civilian population in Syria and Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. With funds of CHF 20 million, the SDC focuses its efforts on the protection and support of the population affected by the conflict in Syria and Syrian refugees in neighbouring counties. It has set the following three priorities: monetary and in-kind contributions to humanitarian organisations, direct bilateral activities and the secondment of technical experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) to UN partner organisations.
- Political solution to the conflictSwitzerland is committed to a political solution to the conflict and supports the political mission of the Special Envoy of the Arab League and the UN.
- The fight against impunity
The numerous allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria need to be investigated and those responsible on all sides of the conflict brought to justice. Switzerland submitted this request to the UN Security Council on 14 January 2013 with the support of 56 countries. To ensure that justice is done, the International Criminal Court (ICC) must deal with the situation in Syria. Switzerland is convinced that no lasting peace is possible in Syria without consistent action against impunity.
Switzerland supports the UN Human Rights Council's Independent International Commission of Inquiry, which has called for an extension of its mandate. One of the members of the Commission is Carla Del Ponte, former Attorney General of Switzerland and former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda at The Hague.
Switzerland contributes to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which support Palestinian refugees who fled after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The SDC also runs projects for the Syrian refugee agency "General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees" (GAPAR).
At the end of 2012 there were 137 Swiss citizens living in Syria.
Relations between Switzerland and Syria began early on. The Silk Road passed through Syria, connecting the Near East, the Middle East and East Asia with Switzerland. In the 19th century, trade was driven by the export of chemicals and textiles from Switzerland to Syria and of textiles from Syria to Switzerland. Swiss merchants settled in Aleppo, which was a hub between East and West.
Syria gained independence in 1941; Switzerland recognized the new republic in 1945. From 1946 to 1958, it was represented by a chancellery in Damascus, then by a consulate general. This was upgraded to an embassy in 1962. Since 2007, Switzerland has also had a consulate in Aleppo. In 2005, the SDC opened a regional cooperation office in Damascus which has reported to the regional cooperation office in Amman since 2010. Syria represents its interests through the Syrian embassy in Paris and the Syrian consulate in Geneva.
The popular uprisings that broke out in March 2011 and their violent suppression have led to a cooling of relations. In August 2011, the FDFA recalled the Swiss Ambassador in Syria to Bern. President Assad was officially informed of this fact in February 2012.