Editorial, by Samuel Morard, MIDE intern, 4 January 2019

2019 01 04 armes S Morard"Designed to kill, weapons kill. As soon as an event prompts their use, they will kill. Our weapons. With efficiency. How long will we be involved with this butchery?" It is with these words that Edmond Kaiser - founder of Terre des hommes and Sentinelles - was indignant about Swiss arms exports during the Vietnam War. He maintained that one could not shed "tears, milk and napalm" at the same time. Switzerland, the headquarters of international human rights organizations, disapproved of the abuses committed; faithful to its humanitarian tradition, it came to the aid of the victims; concerned with market freedom and economic prosperity, it marketed weapons such as napalm incendiary bombs and anti-personnel mines. The coexistence of these three paradigms is still relevant.

Arms exports in 2017 totalled CHF 446.8 million. This corresponds to 0.15% of Swiss exports. Anecdotal from an economic point of view. Less negligible for a Gazan, Yemen Houthi, South Kivu Muvira, Kurdistan Yazidi, South Sudan Nuer or Afghan Hazara child, who's short life will end with the help of "Swiss quality" precision. The Group for a Switzerland without an Army has a long list of countries where the ruling regimes bombed their own population with Swiss Pilatus planes. Despite the regulations in force, Swiss weapons are frequently found in the hands of terrorist groups but it would be naive to be surprised. A report from the Federal Audit Office highlights laxity in controls and the ease with which companies exploit the many legal loopholes. Furthermore, following a request from the Arms Lobby, the Federal Council decided in June 2018 to relax its Ordinance on War Materiel to allow exports to countries in internal armed conflict. The Swiss Red Cross has sharply denounced this decision, considering it incompatible with the safety of civilian populations. While Switzerland - renowned for its neutrality - organizes peace conferences and advocates for a tightening of the arms trade regulations, its position on the international scene is weakened. Peter Maurer, ICRC President, considers that the reputation, credibility and reliability of Switzerland as a humanitarian actor are affected. Thanks to a massive mobilization of political parties, aid agencies and religious organizations, the Federal Council reversed its decision on October 31, 2018, an extremely rare event in Swiss politics. The debate remains tense, however, and the future uncertain.

The effectiveness of humanitarian law, human rights and the rights of the child is directly linked to the commercial practices of states. If Switzerland wants to live up to the ideals it claims, Kaiser's call for a coherent foreign policy must be heard.

Picture: Hans Beat Müller, flickr/creative commons

NB: The editorial does not necessarily reflect the opinion of IDE board and team.

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