Switzerland works for the protection of human dignity – also in armed conflict – and compliance with international law even in times of war. International law imposes restrictions and prohibitions on the means and methods of warfare. It obliges the parties to a conflict to protect civilians and non-combatants such as captured fighters. Human rights, refugee law, international criminal law and various regional and national laws offer further protections.

As a contracting party to the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland helps to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. Its priorities are: 

  • promoting compliance with international humanitarian law among all parties to a conflict, including non-state armed groups
  • specific actions to assist civilians, such as protecting patients, hospitals, medical staff and medical transports
  • conducting research and developing guidelines in response to the latest challenges for the protection of civilians (with partners such as the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, United Nations University, ICRC, CIVIC and the Norwegian Refugee Council) contributing to discussions and debate on these topics with governments and other actors
  • shaping the framework for humanitarian action according to the principles of international humanitarian law, e.g. through debates in the UN General Assembly and Security Council
  • leading the Group of Friends for the Protection of Civilians with over 25 UN member states, which provide constructively critical guidance to the Security Council, coordinating the Group's statements before the Security Council and organising a thematic week proposing various side events alongside the annual Security Council debates 

Protecting medical missions and counterterrorism/sanctions

The provision of medical care to the wounded and sick in conflicts, including to the enemy, is one of the key principles of international humanitarian law. Some counterterrorism measures and sanctions, although necessary, criminalise the provision of medical aid. For example, nurses may face judicial proceedings if they care for wounded combatants designated as terrorists.

Switzerland therefore advocates discussions between states, and also humanitarian organisations and counterterrorism actors, about the primacy of international humanitarian law and possible solutions to such problems. In international forums, it contributes to debate and promotes independent research and concrete measures, such as provisions exempting non-partisan humanitarian action.

Last update 25.07.2023


Peace and Human Rights Division

Bundesgasse 32
3003 Bern


+41 58 462 30 50

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