Dealing with the past

Switzerland's activities in the field of dealing with the past take place within the framework of its civilian peace-building and human-rights commitments. It is actively involved in efforts to revisit specific past events and circumstances in a delicate and skillful manner to bring about reconciliation in post-conflict societies. It launches and supports appropriate initiatives and resolutions, while providing financial and logistical assistance and expertise.

To rebuild war-torn societies and ensure lasting peace, efforts to deal with the past, rehabilitate victims, and fight impunity are as crucially important as re-establishing the rule of law. Switzerland has been actively involved in this field since 2003. During the 1990s the FDFA established an appropriate framework for action based on principles developed by Louis Joinet, a French national, for the then UN Commission on Human Rights. It aims to fight impunity in cases of major human-rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law. The principles set out four key areas for action: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation, and the guarantee of non-recurrence. The 'Joinet Principles', as they are known, recognise the rights of victims and set out the state’s obligations.

The principles provide for truth and reconciliation commissions, fact-finding missions and commissions, national and mixed national-international (hybrid) criminal courts, special tribunals, and procedures before the International Criminal Court. In addition, programmes have been designed to rehabilitate and compensate victims, reform authorities and institutions, and vet officials. At the same time, measures with high symbolic value take on importance for individual efforts and promote collective work that deals with the past, such as public apologies and memorials for victims and resistance fighters.

Switzerland’s framework for action

Bilateral and multilateral activities

At the bilateral level, Switzerland supports initiatives to deal with the past in the Philippines, Guatemala, Columbia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Ukraine, Burundi, Mali, Chad, and the Middle East. The FDFA provides financial, logistical, and political support, while serving in an active advisory capacity. In addition, Switzerland regularly seconds experts to special courts such as those for Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia as well as to the Archives of the National Civilian Police (Archiv der Guardia Nacional Civil) and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala).

It launches initiatives and submits resolutions at the multilateral level. One example is the mandate for a UN special rapporteur on the promotion of  truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence. It assists in further development of new ideas and concepts for dealing with the past – for example, in the following areas:

  • Justice and peace
  • Gender and reparation
  • Disarmament, demobilisation, social reintegration, and justice in transition processes
  • Development and justice in transition processes
  • Archiving and human rights
  • Prevention of genocide and mass violence
  • Relation between dealing with the past and prevention

Diplomatic initiatives