Further information on the Federal Council’s decision, 1 April 1949
In 1949, Switzerland occupied an important place in Europe and its expertise in international humanitarian law was widely recognised. After the two World Wars – building on its job of protecting foreign interests and working closely with the Red Cross – Switzerland gained considerable experience in helping victims and protecting prisoners of war.
In 1949, however, it was necessary for the states to take stock of what had not worked during the Second World War and a new international conference was thus called for.
Switzerland very naturally took up the initiative; the political department recalled in its decision of April 1949 that – with the Federal Council's "leading role" in the Geneva Conventions and the country as their depository state – Switzerland had always taken the initiative to convene international conferences concerned with revising the conventions. It further stated that the future conference scheduled for August 1949 must adapt the conventions in line with "modern warfare", which may have referred to Adolf Hitler's concept of "total war" whereby not only the army of a country goes to war but the entire population. To this end, the international conference of August 1949 sought to include the protection of civilians in armed conflict in international law.
Switzerland's political department, forerunner to the FDFA, predicted that, if successful, this conference would "take place among the major international events of our time", arguing that as "guardian of the Geneva Conventions, a neutral power often called upon to protect foreign interests, and home of the Red Cross", Switzerland must make every effort to ensure its success.
Thank you to the Swiss Federal Archives for their cooperation in producing this article.