Swiss neutrality and the rule of law as indispensable prerequisites for the work of the ICRC

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

It is difficult to comprehend what a constant stream of one-sided war propaganda can do to people’s minds. By adopting all EU sanctions against Russia in violation of neutrality, the Federal Council has sent a fatal signal: Already, politicians are calling for “much closer cooperation” between Switzerland and NATO, going beyond the existing Partnership for Peace (PfP), in order to defend the “Western world order based on freedom, democracy, self-determination and the rule of law, in step with the NATO armies. Regrettably, this is what Council of States member Thierry Burkart is currently demanding, who made his debut as FDP president last year with a welcome rejection of the Federal Council’s deadlocked negotiations with Brussels.1 The “Tages-Anzeiger” cheerfully adds: “Commentary on the NATO-taboo break – Burkart is spot on – Switzerland is not a non-aligned zone” (9 April 2022). And ex-Federal Councillor Kaspar Villiger explains succinctly: “There can be no neutrality in this fateful confrontation.” (“Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 13 April 2022) Resistance from us citizens is necessary!
  In addition, the “Western values” mentioned by Thierry Burkart are no longer even respected in Switzerland. Even fundamental principles of the rule of law are being thrown overboard in Bern, as will be explained in a moment. Particularly alarming: if the Swiss model falters, the vital humanitarian work of the ICRC in Ukraine – and in all other war zones! – is in serious jeopardy. We are witnessing this in light of the vile lies recently spread about the ICRC’s work in the Donbass. The ICRC’s work is inextricably linked to the warring parties’ trust in Switzerland’s neutrality and rule of law.

Prejudgement “Russian war criminal” by Swiss legal scholars is contrary to human rights

The presumption of innocence is one of the most important principles of criminal law in the constitutional state and is mandatory (ius cogens): “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” (Article 11(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
  The first Swiss solicitor to call out of the blue for an international arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin was Carla Del Ponte, former Swiss Federal Prosecutor and Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Her “line of evidence”: War crimes had been committed in Ukraine and their perpetrators must be held accountable. “But the first person responsible is undoubtedly President Putin”2 It is to be hoped that the lady at the Yugoslavia Tribunal did not make such fact-free accusations. Incidentally, the Western perpetrators of the war of aggression against Serbia were never brought to justice. Actually, a Swiss jurist should have refused to participate in a tribunal that is blind to the NATO eye.
  A second Swiss criminal lawyer and also former judge at the Yugoslavia Tribunal, Stefan Trechsel, comments on the Bucha investigation in a newspaper interview. For him, it is clear from the outset that the Russians were the perpetrators. Trechsel assumes “that the deeds were planned, organised and ordered. But that is only my personal impression from a distance”. Despite this admission, the lawyer spins his thread further:” It is by no means excluded that this comes from Putin. [...] However, it will be very difficult to prove this, which is why it is only speculation for now. But that does not change the fact that evidence will be sought at all costs.”3 (emphasis mw) In plain language: It does not matter that there is no evidence against President Putin – after all, the US leadership is trained to invent evidence for war crimes …
  The third in the group of pre-judging solicitors: Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter, head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP). As “evidence” for Russian perpetration in Bucha, she cites the “report” of the Ukrainian Minister of the Interior (i. e., a warring party) on “rapes, looting and killings of civilians” as well as the testimonies of Ukrainian refugees in Switzerland.4 Pretty one-sided evidence … Ms. Federal Councillor also continues to spin her anti-Russian thread ad absurdum: “We must assume that Russia deliberately wants to drive as many people as possible to flee. [...] Putin hopes to be able to divide the Europeans in this way.” If someone wants to weaken and divide the Europeans, it is more likely to be a power on the other side of the Atlantic.

Blatant unequal treatment of refugees: Western values?

Recently, the “Stand up for Ukraine” donor conference organised by Ursula von der Leyen raised over 9 billion euros in no time. For Afghanistan, on the other hand, which has been reduced to rubble for decades and robbed of its national wealth by the USA and its vassals, only 2.44 billion dollars were pledged at the donor conference on 31 March instead of the 4.4 billion dollars demanded by the UN. This leaves millions of Afghan children and adults to starve to death. First, the Taliban should reopen the girls’ schools from the 7th grade onwards, before Germany shows itself to be more generous, said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in ZDF heute on 31 March. Western values?
  In Switzerland, refugees and migrants from Ukraine – unlike people from other countries – are accepted without bureaucratic hurdles and, in addition to having their basic needs met, they receive a privileged additional package: their own flats, tram passes, freedom to travel, immediate work permits and job placement, their own enrolment classes for their children and much more. Many asylum seekers and temporarily admitted persons from other war-torn countries rightly feel left behind. They can only dream of being able to lead a normal life here.
Federal Councillor Keller-Sutter rejects the accusation of unequal treatment: “The situations should not be mixed”. Most Ukrainians have “the firm desire to return to Ukraine”.5 However, many refugees from other countries also have this desire to return. Then the Federal Councillor explains in concrete terms what “must not be mixed”: she says that “the war in the middle of Europe, which was not thought possible, affects us all. Many people in Switzerland would therefore have the feeling that it could also be us” (emphasis mw).
  Anyone of us who sorts the people of our globe according to such criteria urgently needs to go over the books, whether his name is Hansli Meier or Karin Keller-Sutter. However, Keller-Sutter’s explanation lacks the factor of manipulative distortion of our fellow human feelings through years of brainwashing. While we welcome Ukrainian migrants, we remove Russian singers and conductors from the concert programme – unless they distance themselves from their state president – and Dostoyevsky from the lecture schedule. Western values?

Difficult times for the ICRC and its work for the benefit of people in war zones

“We surrendered without a fight by deviating from our neutrality, although no one asked us to do so. We have held out for two centuries, and now we are submitting without a fight in less than five days! This abandonment of neutrality is not only bad for the country’s identity, but also for its credibility.” (Guy Mettan)6
  On 29 March, the ICRC had to defend itself against unsavoury accusations from the Ukrainian side: The ICRC was far too close to Moscow, it was helping to “kidnap’ Ukrainian refugees to Russia and the like – it is impossible to reproduce everything. There was even criticism that ICRC President Peter Maurer had visited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow and greeted him warmly (!). According to the “Basler Zeitung”, Dietrich Dreyer, a long-time DEZA/SDC staff member in Ukraine, said that the sole aim of these talks was “to enable the organisation to do its humanitarian work. There are negotiators on both sides, and nothing works without negotiations – and these are a matters for the boss.” Of course, Peter Maurer also talks to the Ukrainian side. “A week before his visit to Moscow, he was in Kiev,” says Dreyer, but this was never mentioned in the whole controversy.7 In the same article, Ambassador Toni Frisch, OSCE Humanitarian Coordinator in Eastern Ukraine until 2021, also confirms that it is “essential to talk to both sides [...] for example to open a humanitarian corridor and evacuate civilians”.

Deliberate and targeted attacks on the ICRC cause great damage

The ICRC warns that “deliberate, targeted attacks using false narratives and disinformation to discredit the ICRC have the potential to cause real harm for ICRC teams, our Red Cross Red Crescent Movement partners working on the ground, and the people we serve. As needs increase by the hour, our ability to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance is today being jeopardised by a surge of misinformation and disinformation about our work and the role we play to alleviate suffering in armed conflict.”8 (emphasis mw)
  The fact that “nothing works without negotiations”, as Dietrich Dreyer says, is explained in very concrete terms by the ICRC in its statement of 29 March: “Over the last five weeks, the ICRC has been speaking with Russian and Ukrainian authorities about their obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) and what practical steps must be taken to limit the suffering of civilians and those who no longer participate in hostilities, including the wounded, sick, and prisoners of war (POWs). To the ICRC’s great concern, the parties are yet to meet many of their core obligations under IHL or reach consensus on key issues that only they can concretely deliver on …” these are the concerns of the ICRC that its staff have to deal with on a daily basis! (emphasis mw)

Neutrality as an indispensable basis for the work of Switzerland and the ICRC

“Neutrality, impartiality and independence” must “always be respected” in the ICRC’s activities, Ambassador Toni Frisch told bazonline on 5 April. “For neutrality is the prerequisite for saving lives and doing justice to both parties.” The ICRC is used to working in such difficult situations: “I trust that its staff, who are now challenged in Mariupol and elsewhere, will do their utmost to find solutions.” This is what we wholeheartedly wish for the ICRC staff and the unfortunate people struggling to survive there.
  At the end of his OSCE mandate in eastern Ukraine last summer, Toni Frisch spoke about the great importance of Switzerland’s tradition of humanitarian aid based on its neutrality: “Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation in the field of humanitarian aid, also within the OSCE. This is a strength I relied on during my mandate in Ukraine, and our tradition, especially during Didier Burkhalter’s chairmanship, was held in high esteem. And it goes hand in hand with an ideal of neutrality that I hope will continue in the future. In this respect, we as Swiss have a considerable amount of credibility, which we must use in such a way that we can make a difference with it. Personally, I am glad and proud to have been able to embody this tradition during my mandate.”9
  Unfortunately, since the end of February, the Federal Council has jeopardised this tradition by pandering to the EU and NATO states. In conclusion, Guy Mettan, a member of the Geneva Parliament and former editor-in-chief of the “Tribune de Genève”, has this to say about the serious consequences of this misguided policy: “The sacrifice of neutrality is a serious attack on the country, because by slavishly surrendering to the Western nations, we have lost credibility with the rest of the world. [...] By unconditionally backing Ukraine and Europe, we are endangering the neutrality and impartiality of the ICRC. Both attitudes are inseparable in the eyes of the world. That is why the ICRC had to react firmly to Ukrainian attempts to sabotage its actions and accuse it of collaborating with Russia, because neutrality is the very heart of its mission. How can one trust an institution whose host country has violated the spirit and letter of a neutrality that is even written into its constitution, and which wants to please Western political leaders and a public opinion heated by anti-Russian propaganda?”10  •


1 Burkart, Thierry. “Das Ende der Igel-Schweiz: Die Zusammenarbeit mit der Nato muss massiv verstärkt werden” (The end of hedgehog Switzerland: Cooperation with NATO must be massively strengthened. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 8  April 2022.
2 Lob, Gerhard. “Ukraine-Krieg. Carla Del Ponte spricht sich für internationalen Haftbefehl gegen Putin aus” (Ukraine war. Carla Del Ponte speaks out in favour of international arrest warrant against Putin). In: Luzerner Zeitung of 13 March 2022.
3 Baumann, Meret; Gerny Daniel. “Schweizer Ex-Richter am Kriegsverbrecher-Tribunal: ‘Es ist unwahrscheinlich, dass Putin in einer Gefängniszelle landet und vor Gericht gestellt wird’” (Swiss ex-judge at war crimes tribunal: ‘It is unlikely that Putin will end up in a prison cell and be put on trial’). Interview with Stefan Trechsel. Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 10 April 2022
4 Schäfer, Fabian; Gafafer, Tobias. Interview. “Justizministerin Keller-Sutter: ‘Ich bin entsetzt. Das sind klare Hinweise auf Kriegsverbrechen’” (Justice Minister Keller-Sutter: ‘I am appalled. These are clear indications of war crimes’). In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 6 April 2022.
5 “Keller-Sutter sieht keine Ungleichbehandlung von Flüchtlingen.” (Keller-Sutter sees no unequal treatment of refugees). of 29 March 2022 (Keystone-SDA)
6 Mettan, Guy. “Selenskyj-Manie und das verwüstete Image der Schweiz” (Zelensky mania and the devastated image of Switzerland). In: Weltwoche of 7 April 2022
7 Affentranger, Zita. “Helfen zwischen den Fronten – Ohne Verhandlungen geht gar nichts – und die sind Chefsache” (Helping between the fronts – Nothing works without negotiations – and they are a matter for the head of the organisation). In: bazonline of 5 April 2022
8 International Committee of the Red Cross. “Ukraine: As humanitarian crisis deepens, parties urgently need to agree on concrete measures; misinformation risks lives”. Press release of 29 March 2022;
9 Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA. “Toni Frisch – eine Karriere im Dienst der humanitären Hilfe” (Toni Frisch – a career in the service of humanitarian aid). 27 July 2021
10 Mettan, Guy. “Selenskyj-Manie und das verwüstete Image der Schweiz” (Zelensky mania and the devastated image of Switzerland). In: Weltwoche of 7 April 2022

“Neutrality does not mean indifference”

“Our neutrality is often misunderstood. I understand that because these are such polarising contexts, but it is precisely in such contexts that it is extremely important to maintain dialogue with the warring parties. This is the only way we can provide assistance to all those affected by war and create the confidence to visit prisoners of war, repatriate fallen soldiers, etc. It is just really important: neutrality does not mean indifference, but on the contrary – it is a commitment to those who are most affected by this war.”

Source: Interview with Dominik Stillhart, Head of ICRC Operations in Ukraine;
in: “10 vor 10”, SRF television, 14 April 2022

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