In the context of promoting peace and respect for human rights, Switzerland is active in the field of dealing with the past. Through its activities, it aims to facilitate social reconciliation after serious violations of human rights or infringements of international humanitarian law. It therefore supports initiatives within a bilateral and a multilateral context.
Dealing with the past
Switzerland’s activities in the field of dealing with the past are based on four key principles: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation and the guarantee of non-recurrence. These principles recognise the rights of victims and define the obligations of states. They are based on the work that Louis Joinet developed for the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1999.
the individual right of victims and their families to know the truth about the wrongs inflicted on them and their relatives;
the collective right of society to know the truth about the past events and circumstances that led to serious human rights violations.
These rights play an important role in ensuring that such events do not recur.
The right to know and the duty to remember include:
The state has an obligation to ensure that injustices are not erased from the collective memory, and to prevent the development of revisionist ideas. The most frequently employed instruments in this context are extra-judicial commissions of inquiry, also known as truth and reconciliation commissions. They aim to lay bare the administrative machinery that committed, or failed to prevent, the abuses, in order to ensure that they do not recur. In addition, the commissions are responsible with securing evidence for the judiciary. Thus, the majority of measures simultaneously contribute to documentation, and to the creation and preservation of archives.
The right to justice and the duty to investigate and criminally prosecute human rights violations are based on two principles: firstly, any victim can assert their rights and is eligible for fair and effective legal remedy. This includes ensuring that the responsible person(s) will be held accountable and that reparations will be made.
In addition, the state has the obligation to investigate human rights violations. It must arrest and prosecute perpetrators, and punish them, if their guilt is proven.
The right to individual and collective reparation includes individual measures for victims, their relatives and dependants. It comprises, for example, restitution, i.e. the attempt to restore a victim’s previous situation, or compensation for physical or mental injury. It also includes lost opportunities, bodily harm, defamation, legal costs and rehabilitation. Also covered are medical care, including psychological and psychiatric treatment.
Collective measures of reparation include symbolic acts such as commemorative events for the victims, the construction of memorials or the public recognition of its responsibility by the state. By such means, the state can discharge its duty of remembrance and contribute to restoring the victims’ dignity.
disbanding paramilitary armed groups (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration),
reforming security institutions,
repealing emergency laws,
removing officials from office who have been proven in a fair and transparent procedure to be implicated in serious human rights violations, and
reforming state institutions and laws in accordance with the norms of good governance and the rule of law.
In order to prevent the recurrence of injustices, measures are required such as the vetting of officials in public institutions as well as the reform of administrative and legal institutions. This includes:
Bilateral and multilateral activities
Bilaterally, Switzerland supports initiatives in the field of dealing with the past on the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, in Sri Lanka, Colombia, Kosovo, in the Caucasus, in Burundi, Mali, Chad, Zimbabwe, North Africa and the Middle East. The FDFA advises and supports governments and accompanies in political processes. These include truth and reconciliation commissions and programmes concerned with the rehabilitation and compensation of victims, as well as the reform of authorities and institutions or the construction of memorials.
Multilaterally, Switzerland launches initiatives and initiates resolutions, such as the mandate of a UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence. This office is the result of a Swiss initiative from 2011. Switzerland is also active in the initial and continued training of experts, and assists in the development of new ideas and concepts for dealing with the past – for example, in the following fields:
justice and peace,
gender and reparation,
disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and transitional justice,
development and transitional justice,
archiving and human rights,
prevention of genocide and mass violence,
relationship between dealing with the past and prevention.