Prevention, mediation and future prospects: Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter urges comprehensive action to help people in need

Press release, 23.05.2016

At the World Humanitarian Summit taking place in Istanbul from 23 to 24 May, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter stressed the importance of finding political solutions to an increasing number of crises, conflicts and natural disasters. Mr Burkhalter, who is head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), announced Switzerland's intention to step up its commitment to mediation and prevention work, calling for effective relief efforts and greater respect for international humanitarian law. Switzerland works actively to provide aid, find political solutions and tackle the root causes of conflicts so that people are not only given emergency assistance but prospects for the future, reducing the need for forced migration.

The first World Humanitarian Summit will take place in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May 2016.
The first World Humanitarian Summit will take place in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May 2016. © Keystone

The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Its aim is to make the international community aware of the enormity of the world's humanitarian needs which are often caused by conflicts, underdevelopment and failing states, and to propose political solutions.

"The best way to end people's suffering is to put an end to war", stated Mr Burkhalter at the world summit today, underlining Switzerland's long-term commitment to this goal. He also referred to the country's longstanding work in mediation which Switzerland is planning to extend. Mr Burkhalter noted that greater prevention efforts are needed to avoid crises and conflicts from emerging. He said that human rights violations are often an indicator of growing instability, which is why Switzerland intends to launch an appeal in June urging greater cooperation between the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN Security Council in New York. This afternoon Mr Burkhalter will sign a financing agreement between Switzerland and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to support global conflict prevention programmes and long-term efforts to tackle the root causes of fragility and violence. The agreement is intended to improve the UNDP's capacity to respond swiftly to crises. It also aims to bolster conflict prevention and efforts to combat the causes of conflict, two key aspects that are in line with Switzerland's overall approach to international cooperation. The agreement forms part of Switzerland's longstanding commitment to improving the situation of people living in fragile contexts in a sustainable manner.

At the world summit in Istanbul, Switzerland is also calling for compliance with international humanitarian law and better protection for the affected communities. Breaches of international law must be strictly penalised, said Mr Burkhalter, stating that Switzerland would continue to be active in its efforts to create a forum for states which would work to strengthen international humanitarian law and highlight its universal validity. Mr Burkhalter will take part in a round-table discussion on international humanitarian law and the protection of civilian populations on Tuesday morning.

Wherever it is needed, humanitarian aid must be delivered in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. At its core, humanitarian aid is about protecting people in need – including  people forced to migrate to maintain their security and dignity. This is why Switzerland is currently sending a fourth humanitarian convoy to Ukraine with goods for people living on both sides of the contact line, for example. Mr Burkhalter will represent Switzerland at another round-table discussion – on how to tackle forced displacement – on Monday afternoon. He will also take part in an event co-organised by Switzerland dealing with improving protection for people forced to find refuge in other countries because of natural disasters or the effects of climate change. In 2012 Switzerland co-initiated the development of such a protection agenda. The follow-up mechanism to this agenda is now being launched at the world summit.

Switzerland is committed to providing more effective aid for people in need and is advocating in Istanbul for the use of synergies between the existing instruments. "We have to break down the silo mentality to optimise the effectiveness of our efforts to help people in need", said Mr Burkhalter. The Federal Council's Dispatch on International Cooperation 2017-20 builds on this very approach by bringing humanitarian aid, peacebuilding, development cooperation and cooperation with Eastern Europe under one roof. This will create synergies and increase the effectiveness of Switzerland's work.

On Tuesday afternoon Mr Burkhalter will travel to Lebanon where he will visit several projects supported by Switzerland that aim to help create future prospects for the local population. To this end a variety of instruments used by Switzerland in its international cooperation work are already being put to use in Lebanon in an integrated and coordinated way.

Further information:

World Humanitarian Summit
Statement by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter
World Humanitarian Summit 2016, Istanbul
New aid consignment on its way to Donetsk

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
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CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: +41 58 462 31 53
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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs