Compliance with and the strengthening and promotion of international humanitarian law are priorities of Swiss foreign policy.
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 also covers new forms of conflict, violations occur again and again.
Switzerland works to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law in actual conflict situations. It has a number of instruments at its disposal for this purpose. It can
- publicly condemn offences committed
- urge the conflict parties to respect international humanitarian law
- instigate diplomatic measures
Switzerland is making constant efforts to find ways to improving compliance with international humanitarian law.
Switzerland is 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 sustainable measures for dealing with the past.
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 launches or supports various initiatives and activities. Examples:
- 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 on the ground, 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 ICRC in its role of guardian of the Geneva Conventions.
Dissemination of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, in particular among the armed forces and also during peacetime. This involves translating the texts and integrating them into training.
- Switzerland is financing a multi-year project of the Programme on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR), focusing on the development of systematic methodologies on monitoring, reporting and fact-finding 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, whose mandate is to provide teaching to a high academic level and to conduct and promote legal research, to organise continuing education and training and meetings of experts, and to provide legal expertise in all branches of international law relating to armed conflict.
- Research on the reaction of armed groups to the norms governing the protection of civilians, with the aim of assisting actors 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, and seminars under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation 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 for International Humanitarian Law