Protection of medical activities in armed conflicts: Switzerland brings states together

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Bern, 05.11.2020 - The current COVID-19 pandemic underlines the importance of medical assistance – especially in difficult contexts and during armed conflicts. International Humanitarian Law (IHL) protects medical activities in armed conflicts. From 2 to 5 November 2020, Switzerland organised a meeting of government experts on the protection of medical activities in armed conflicts. The event brought together more than 280 participants from around 100 countries. Due to the global pandemic, the event was conducted virtually. The meeting enabled the States represented to identify and discuss good practices. States can now draw on them to advance the implementation of IHL at national level.

In general, it is well recognized that failure to protect medical activities lies less in the absence of international laws than in the implementation of existing rules. Hence, during the meeting, experts exchanged views on the way their respective States implement the law and address the challenges related to the exercise of medical activities. In doing so, the governmental experts made progress in their common understanding to promote pragmatic solutions. For example, they discussed practices for better protection of medical professionals in the fight against COVID-19 from violence by the civilian population. The respect and protection of wounded or sick people, as well as medical personnel, is firmly anchored in IHL and was one of its founding principles more than 150 years ago. In response to this, Henri Dunant set up the first Committee of the Red Cross. Shortly afterwards, in 1864, the first Geneva Convention was drawn up. Despite this long tradition, the protection of the medical mission remains one of the greatest challenges in the current armed conflicts.

Respecting, strengthening and promoting international humanitarian law are part of Switzerland's DNA
Respecting, strengthening and promoting IHL are priorities of Switzerland's foreign policy. Since foreign and domestic policy are inextricably linked, Switzerland is committed to this issue both internationally and nationally. The Voluntary Report on the Implementation of IHL by Switzerland, which was adopted by the Federal Council on 12 August 2020, shows how. Thanks to its neutrality, its humanitarian tradition and its status as depositary State of the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland also plays an important role at international level. Geneva is a centre of humanitarian aid and is now the humanitarian capital of the world. The Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols are fundamental elements of IHL.

Ensuring a minimum of humanity in armed conflicts
IHL aims to save lives, alleviate suffering and preserve a minimum level of humanity in armed conflicts. It protects people who are not or no longer involved in hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare in armed conflicts. Although IHL is generally respected worldwide, violations occur repeatedly. Violations of IHL lead to unacceptable humanitarian consequences. The dialogue between States is essential to prevent the severest consequences for the suffering population and to ensure the concrete implementation of IHL at national level.

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