The Federal Council approves a report on Switzerland's good offices

Press release, 10.01.2019

Switzerland's good offices are a long-standing tradition and one of its key foreign policy instruments. On 14 December 2018, the Federal Council adopted a report on Switzerland's good offices. This report has been published in response to a postulate requesting an overview of Switzerland's good offices.

Peace is a precious commodity. People in countries ravaged by armed conflict know this only too well, and for the rest of us, the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and many other parts of the world are a daily reminder. Through its good offices, Switzerland helps to find solutions to prevent or find a way to end such tragic conflicts. Switzerland's good offices have a long tradition and help to fulfil its foreign policy goals. Switzerland uses its good offices to help to ensure human rights compliance and to promote peace and democracy, thereby contributing also to the security and prosperity of Swiss the people.

The Federal Council's report sets out the different activities which make up Switzerland's good offices. The report on Switzerland’s international facilitation and mediation processes is the Federal Council’s response to the Béglé postulate (postulate 16.3929) of 1 December 2016 regarding Switzerland's good offices).

Switzerland’s good offices include three distinct but complementary areas of activity: protecting power mandates, Switzerland's host state policy and Switzerland’s role as dialogue facilitator and mediator.

Protecting power mandates: As a protecting power, Switzerland safeguards foreign interests. This involves taking on some of the consular and/or diplomatic tasks of a state in the event that it has broken ties with another state in part or full. During the Second World War, Switzerland undertook over 200 protecting power mandates. Today, Switzerland has six such mandates: for the US in Iran, for Russia in Georgia and vice versa, for Iran in Saudi Arabia and vice versa, and for Iran in Egypt. 

Host state for peace negotiations: In its role as host state, Switzerland guarantees security, a calm environment and discretion in sensitive negotiations. It has the necessary infrastructure to organise and host such events. This conducive environment helps to further solutions between the parties. For example, Switzerland hosted the Syria peace talks under the aegis of the UN Special Envoy for Syria. Between 2008 and 2015, Switzerland hosted several rounds of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme in Geneva and Lausanne.

Mediation and facilitation: Switzerland is a mediator, a dialogue facilitator and supports mediation and negotiation processes worldwide. Switzerland chairs the international contact group which is accompanying the peace process in Mozambique. The contact group is seeking to end the violence which broke out again in 2012, 20 years after the end of the country’s destructive civil war. Between 2012 and 2016, Switzerland supported the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC EP, particularly in regard to the ceasefire to put an end to the conflict – a conflict which lasted for over half a century, caused 260,000 deaths and 45,000 disappearances, and displaced more than 6 million people in Colombia. Thanks to Switzerland’s mediation, Russia and Georgia concluded a customs administration agreement in 2011 which paved the way for Russia to join the WTO.

In its own political system, Switzerland strives to ensure a balance of interests, foster compromise and maintain its tradition of consensual democracy. It draws on this experience in its efforts towards the peaceful resolution of conflicts worldwide, ensuring that negotiation processes are handled with discretion and confidentiality, and supporting implementation once a resolution is achieved. Mediation requires patience and teamwork. Switzerland is training the mediators of tomorrow. By supporting the master's programme in peace mediation at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, Switzerland is encouraging the professionalisation of peace mediation to give future peace processes better chances of success.

In its report, the Federal Council emphasises that good offices will remain an important element of Switzerland’s foreign policy. Parties to conflicts put their trust in Switzerland because of its neutrality and expertise. This increases good will towards Switzerland and opens doors in other policy areas. Switzerland’s good offices, and especially mediation, allow it to occupy an important niche in the area of conflict resolution. Switzerland will therefore continue to engage in mediation and support the professionalisation of this important activity over the coming years.

For further information

Report on Switzerland’s good offices (de)(pdf, 497kb)