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Opinion

Neutrality in 2022

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Alain Gaschen - The Philippine Star

I have previously written in this column how I look forward to all the possibilities that 2022 can bring. With a new administration entering in June and a more optimistic outlook for the Philippine economy due to the gradual reopening, the optimism still remains as we end the first quarter of the year.

Of course, there have been numerous unforeseen circumstances that have occurred in the first three months of 2022. Chief among this would most probably be the ongoing Russian military aggression against Ukraine. This unilateral and unlawful resort to force has had numerous consequences to today’s interconnected world. Here in the Philippines, the public sees it in the sudden surge of fuel prices, which some fear will drive the cost of other basic commodities, hampering the possible gains from exiting the lockdowns caused by the pandemic.

This event has led various countries and international institutions, including Switzerland, to call for an immediate end to hostilities, as well as to imposing sanctions on Russia as a result of its serious violation of international law. Switzerland also adopted the sanctions initially enacted by the European Union (EU).

To some, this may be surprising, as Switzerland has been, and continues to be, a neutral country. But what most are usually unaware of is that Switzerland observes neutrality in four distinct ways. All of these are rooted in Swiss tradition and history. The adoption of EU sanctions has not altered Swiss neutrality in any way.

The first element of Swiss neutrality is adherence to the law of neutrality. The law of neutrality refers to maintaining neutral in the face of an international armed conflict by not favoring any warring party militarily. This is enshrined in the Hague Conventions of 1907 and in customary international law, which outline the rights and obligations of neutral states in international armed conflicts. Swiss neutrality is also part of our Constitution.

Next would be our policy of neutrality, which is not about legal obligations, but about the credibility of Swiss neutrality in the community of states. It allows for wide discretion in determining what course of action a state should pursue. This means that Switzerland decided based on the specific circumstances and under consideration of the extraordinary event of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine, which constitutes a serious violation of international law. This has resulted in a unique moment in Europe’s recent history. Switzerland has recognized this in its decision to join the EU sanctions. Neutrality does not mean indifference.

Third would be neutrality as part of Switzerland’s identity. This does not just apply to Switzerland as a state, but also extends to its citizens. Neutrality is just as integral to our identity as our fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. These values are what we aim to respect and defend and neutrality does not impede Switzerland to do so.

Lastly would be the humanitarian tradition of neutrality. Switzerland has long maintained a culture of humanitarian aid and solidarity, as seen by the numerous international organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which can trace its history to Switzerland. Neutrality as a humanitarian tradition allows Switzerland to provide aid where it is needed, such as through accepting refugees. However, neutrality also leverages Switzerland’s capability and experience in mediating conflict, should the parties involved request it. This is in accordance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which Switzerland has continued to adhere to. It helps as well that Switzerland can be considered the birthplace of IHL, through the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

While we have adopted the sanctions imposed by the EU, future sanctions will again be reviewed by the Federal Council, our highest executive body, on a case by case basis. Switzerland continues to adhere to the law of neutrality and to determine its neutrality policy by taking into consideration the international context.

Ukraine is suffering ruthless attacks on innocent civilians. Switzerland vehemently condemns these violations of humanitarian law, which constitutes potential war crimes. Switzerland calls for an independent and impartial investigation to shed light on the facts. Switzerland stands in solidarity with Ukraine and its people. The Swiss government expresses this solidarity in action through the provision of humanitarian aid in Ukraine and the region to CHF80 million, aside from the acceptance of refugees.

Overall, the current situation has revealed numerous challenges that need to be overcome. While we are uncertain when the conflict will ease, Switzerland shares the call of the international community that all hostilities must cease. It is my personal hope that all parties involved may set aside their differences and pursue mutual dialogue in good faith, so that we can achieve the peace we wish to see.

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Alain Gaschen is the Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines since August 2019.

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