Dealing with the past

Black and white photographs of torture victims in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Photographs of torture victims in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. © Shutterstock/WDEON

In the context of promoting peace and respect for human rights, Switzerland is active in the field of dealing with the past. Through its activities, it aims to facilitate social reconciliation after serious violations of human rights or infringements of international humanitarian law. It therefore supports initiatives within a bilateral and a multilateral context.

Switzerland’s activities in the field of dealing with the past are based on four key principles: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation and the guarantee of non-recurrence. These principles recognise the rights of victims and define the obligations of states. They are based on the work that Louis Joinet developed for the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1999.

Bilateral and multilateral activities

Bilaterally, Switzerland supports initiatives for dealing with the past upon request in various priority contexts. The FDFA advises and supports partner states and accompanies political processes such truth and reconciliation commissions and programmes concerned with the rehabilitation and compensation of victims, as well as the reform of authorities and institutions or the construction of memorials.

Multilaterally, Switzerland launches initiatives and initiates resolutions. The mandate for a UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence resulted from one such initiative. In 2019, the Human Rights Council also adopted a resolution on dealing with the past that emerged from a Swiss initiative.

Switzerland is also involved in the education and training of experts and helps to develop new ideas and approaches for dealing with the past. For example, Switzerland is supporting methods to protect and improve access to archives that are important in efforts to deal with the past. In 2019, the International Council on Archives approved the Guiding Principles for Safe Havens for Archives at Risk, which were drawn up by international experts in a process launched by Switzerland.

The four pillars of dealing with the past (PDF, 54.2 kB, English)