Dealing with the past: essential for all peace processes

Bern, Press release, 15.10.2009

Failure to adequately deal with the past can revive conflicts. Switzerland seeks to prevent the resurgence of conflict through its global commitment to helping post-conflict societies make amends. At the annual conference of the FDFA’s Political Affairs Division IV: Human Security, which took place in Bern today, the responsibility of the State was highlighted from various angles. Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, the Head of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict Richard Goldstone and other local and foreign dignitaries attended this public gathering, which drew over 450 participants.

What action can States take to ensure that wrongs committed during a conflict are investigated, that perpetrators are brought to justice, that victims are rehabilitated and compensated and that human rights violations are not repeated? These questions lie at the heart of this Thursday’s annual conference at the Stade de Suisse in Bern. 

In her opening speech, Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey greeted the participants who had travelled from so many different countries – Nepal, Colombia, Guatemala, South Africa, Morocco, Rwanda and the Balkans – for the purpose of exchanging knowledge and experiences. She then gave a general overview of the complexity of the topic, highlighting the importance of a systematic and coherent approach to tackling impunity. She mentioned Switzerland’s multilateral activities whether it be in the form of UN Human Rights Council Resolutions or the continuous development of international norms and standards. Finally, she described Switzerland’s bilateral activities, which involve the sharing of expertise with such countries as Nepal, Indonesia, Colombia or Guatemala. 

After a brief round of discussion, State Secretary Michael Ambühl stated that existing norms, particularly those relating to the prevention of genocide, protection of civilian populations and the fight against impunity, are not adequately applied. He stressed the importance of a recently adopted UN Human Rights Council Resolution that Switzerland had introduced. In this Resolution, the UN Secretary General agreed not to accept any peace agreements that would provide general amnesty for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or massive human rights violations.  

The afternoon workshops were devoted to the four Joinet principles. Adopted by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in 1997, these principles cover four main areas relating to the fight against impunity: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation and the guarantee of non-recurrence. These four principles form the basis of all work dealing with past conflicts.

In the closing discussion, ways in which Switzerland could more effectively help post-conflict societies to deal with their past were mentioned by Geri Müller, Chairman of the National Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee and member of the National Council’s Defence Committee, by Carole Vann, a journalist specialised in human rights issues, as well as by Ambassador Thomas Greminger, Head of the FDFA’s Political Affairs Division IV.

Further information:

Dealing with the past

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: (+41) 031 322 31 53
Fax: (+41) 031 324 90 47


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs