Multilateralism, Geneva Conventions and the International Labour Organization – what do they mean?

View from inside the Human Rights Council room, which symbolises multilateralism at the ‘Palais des Nations’ in Geneva.
The Human Rights Council room is a symbol of multilateralism at the United Nations Office at Geneva © Keystone

The challenges we face today – such as the fight against poverty, climate change and war – have a global dimension. In this context, the UN, the international organisations and international law play a key role. Switzerland is highly active in the international multilateral system. Switzerland is a state party to and the depositary of the Geneva Conventions, as well as a founding member and host state of the International Labour Organization.

Multilateralism

Switzerland is involved in the international context in various ways. On one hand, it is a member of various international organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the International Organisation of La Francophonie. It has close economic, political, social, cultural and scientific ties with the European Union. Switzerland is represented at the United Nations by permanent missions based in Geneva, New York, Vienna and Rome. 

Switzerland also hosts various international organisations and conferences. Geneva is one of the main centres for international cooperation, which is why it is often referred to as ‘International Geneva’. 

Switzerland and the international organisations

Switzerland’s missions to the UN

Multilateral cooperation in Swiss development aid

Geneva Conventions

After the terrible events of the Second World War, at an international conference in Geneva chaired by Federal Councillor Max Petitpierre, four new Geneva Conventions were adopted on 12 August 1949. They form the core of international humanitarian law and are applicable in times of armed conflict. In particular they protect persons who are not, or no longer, participating in hostilities. They also set minimum standards for non-international armed conflict.

To date, all countries in the world have committed to respect the Geneva Conventions. This universal commitment to our shared humanity is a success story for Switzerland and demonstrates the importance of international law and multilateralism. 

Over the past 70 years, the Geneva Conventions have saved millions of lives. They have reduced the horrors of war and made it easier to return to peaceful coexistence. However, international humanitarian law continually faces new challenges. The anniversary provides an opportunity to promote better compliance.  

Geneva Conventions

Switzerland’s commitment as a state party to the Geneva Conventions

International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the UN body responsible for drawing up and monitoring international labour standards. Founded in 1919, it is one of the oldest UN institutions and the first international organisation to have its headquarters in Geneva.

The only tripartite UN agency, the ILO brings together government, employer and worker representatives from 187 Member States. Its primary mission is to enable more men and women to obtain decent and productive work in free, fair and safe conditions where human dignity is respected. 

Switzerland is a founder member of the ILO and has been the host state since 1919. The establishment of the organisation’s headquarters in Geneva upon its foundation has contributed to the development of ‘International Geneva’. 

International Labour Organization (en)