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Protective power mandates

Safeguarding foreign interests is one of the services Switzerland offers as part of the good offices that are a special feature of its foreign policy. Switzerland first acted as a protecting power in the 19th century when it looked after the interests of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Dukedom of Baden in France during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.

Representation in conflict situations

A protecting power mandate is required if two states break off diplomatic and/or consular relations in a conflict situation. It covers some of the duties carried out by the previous official diplomatic representation. Provided all parties involved agree, the protecting power represents the interests of one state (the sending state) in a third state (the receiving state) and provides protection for the citizens of the sending state who are living in the receiving state. Through these services a channel of communication is also kept open between the conflicting states.

Switzerland carried out protecting power mandates during the First World War, and in the Second World War, it became a protecting power par excellence on account of its neutrality. It represented the interests of 35 states, including the major combatant powers, with over 200 individual mandates. During the Cold War the number of mandates fluctuated between four (1948) and 24 (1973).

Switzerland’s protective power mandates at present

Although less numerous today, the mandates confided in Switzerland as protective power still retain their full measure of political significance. Currently, Switzerland is exercising the following six diplomatic mandates in representing the interests of:

  • The United States of America in Cuba 
  • Cuba in the United States of America 
  • Iran in Egypt 
  • The United States of America in Iran 
  • The Russian Federation in Georgia 
  • Georgia in the Russian Federation

Only the mandate for the representation of American interests in Iran can be characterized as a comprehensive mandate. The other mandates are rather of a more formal nature, meaning that in the given country, administrative and technical matters as well as consular affairs are handled by foreign interests section of the country concerned using its own personnel. These sections are placed under the high protection of Switzerland.

The representation of American interests in Iran goes back to the hostage crisis of 1980. Since that time, all consular matters of the United States in Iran, except for visas, have been looked after by the American Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Teheran, e.g., passport applications, changes in civil status, consular protection, etc. for American citizens visiting or residing in Iran. This Section works closely with the Service for Foreign Interests at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in Bern and, via the latter, with the Embassy of the United States in Bern.