The respect, promotion and reinforcement of international humanitarian law are among Switzerland’s foreign policy priorities. Switzerland’s commitment is based on Article 1 common to the four Geneva Conventions: “The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances”.
As a state party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the three Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, Switzerland undertakes to comply with these treaties in all circumstances and particularly in times of armed conflict. This is why the rules of international humanitarian law are part of Swiss army training. According to Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols I and III, Switzerland must also ensure compliance with the treaties. The states parties are jointly responsible for compliance with international humanitarian law. Although international humanitarian law has a legal structure adapted to new forms of conflict there are nonetheless repeated violations.
Switzerland works for the compliance with international humanitarian law in certain concrete conflict situations. Various instruments are at its disposal for this purpose. Switzerland can:
- publicly condemn offences committed
- urge the conflict parties to respect international humanitarian law
- instigate diplomatic measures
Switzerland has also launched a diplomatic initiative, in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to find practical ways to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law.
Switzerland is also committed to combating impunity. It supports the International Criminal Court, the other international criminal courts and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission for which it manages the secretariat. These institutions need to be supplemented by measures for dealing with the past in an enduring manner. For this purpose the FDFA has set up a task force “Dealing with the Past and Prevention of Atrocities”.
Switzerland’s efforts to reinforce international humanitarian law are expressed in its commitment to its clarification and implementation. In particular, Switzerland is actively involved in the development of international humanitarian law regulations on weapons, such as cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines.
To promote international humanitarian law, Switzerland either endorses or launches various initiatives and spearheads many activities. Examples:
- Diplomatic initiative in conjunction with the ICRC to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law
- Publication of two reference documents to clarify the legal situation and responsibilities of private military and security companies (PMSCs): the Montreux Document on pertinent legal obligations and good practices for states related to operations of private and military and security companies during armed conflict and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers (ICoC).
- Publication of two complementary manuals on humanitarian access: a legal manual intended to clarify the legal issues surrounding humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict, and a practical manual for the use of actors in the field, which seeks to improve the operational aspects of aid by presenting and disseminating a structured approach and guidance for obtaining and maintaining humanitarian access.
- Support to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in its role of guardian of the Geneva Conventions
- Dissemination the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols, in particular among the armed forces and already during peacetime. This involves the translation of the texts and their inclusion in training courses.
- Switzerland is financing a multi-year project of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) focusing on the development of systematic methodologies on monitoring, reporting and fact-finding (MRF) efforts addressing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict. The « HPCR Advanced Practitioner’s Handbook on Commissions of Inquiry – Monitoring, Reporting, and Fact-Finding » was published in March 2015.
- Support for the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the mandate of which is to provide teaching to a high academic level and to conduct and promote legal research, to organise in-service training courses and meetings of experts, and to provide legal expertise in all branches of international law relating to situations of armed conflict.
- Research on the reaction of armed groups to the norms governing the protection of civilians, with the aim of assisting those who enter into dialogue with such groups to do so more effectively. This project is a follow-up to a study on methods for engaging in dialogue with these groups.
- Organisation of meetings of experts, for example concerning the issue of access to humanitarian aid in armed conflicts, or seminars under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
- Organisation of diplomatic conferences: in 2005 the third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, adopting a red crystal as an additional emblem, was approved at a diplomatic conference in Geneva.
- Interdepartmental Committee on International Humanitarian Law