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Does the adoption of sanctions against Russia constitute a breach of the constitution or does it even mean that Switzerland has abandoned its neutrality?
In Art. 185, the Federal Constitution gives the Swiss government the mandate and the Federal Assembly the task to "take measures to safeguard Switzerland's external security, independence and neutrality". This article on neutrality in the Constitution considers "neutrality" as a means of implementing the fundamental interests of the Confederation as set out in Article 2 of the Constitution. Paragraph 1 reads: "The Swiss Confederation shall protect the liberty and rights of the people and safeguard the independence and security of the country." Paragraph 4 also states: "It shall work for (...) a peaceful and just international order."
Also interesting in this context is Article 54, paragraph 2, from which Switzerland's Good Offices derive. "The Confederation shall be committed to safeguarding the independence of Switzerland and to its welfare; it contributes in particular to the alleviation of need and poverty in the world, to respect for human rights and the promotion of democracy, to the peaceful coexistence of peoples and the preservation of the natural basis of life. (emphasis by the author) So much for the initial situation.
At first glance, one might think that by adopting the sanctions, there is a violation of Article 185 of the Constitution. Anyone who supports drastic sanctions against a party is not acting neutrally in a conflict. However, this raises the question of the definition of neutrality. The law of neutrality was laid down in the 1907 Hague Convention. Taking or adopting sanctions is compatible with the law of neutrality. For example, since the 1990s, sanctions of other countries have also been adopted on several occasions. From a formal legal point of view, there is therefore no violation of the right to neutrality.
However, this is a limited approach that disregards the purpose article (Art. 2) of our Constitution. Exciting questions arise here: Is the independence and security of our country at risk by going along with the sanctions? Presumably there was a tough balancing act here. If the sanctions had not been adopted, this might have led to undesirable tensions with the EU, our most important trading partner, and weakened independence. Looking at Switzerland's reaction from a security perspective, everything must be done to bring the conflicting parties back to the table. Anything that fuels the conflict must be strictly refrained from. In addition, according to paragraph 4 of the purpose article, Switzerland must contribute to a peaceful and just international order. Those who take sides in a conflict can no longer fulfil their task here!
Many self-proclaimed peacemakers in politics now argue that drastic sanctions against the "evil" Russian President Putin are an appropriate response. This way of looking at things completely ignores the long history before the Russian invasion, which was contrary to international law and also included violations of the UN ban on violence on the part of the West, and ignores the context of the controversial eastward expansion of NATO. Moreover, it trivialises the instrument of sanctions.
Economic sanctions always hit the wrong people. First and foremost, it is the ordinary people who suffer. Many see sanctions as a moderate tool to be used when diplomacy has failed but war must be prevented. This view is dangerous.
A look back at the sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s shows the following: On 2 August 1990, Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. Four days later, the United Nations Security Council imposed a near-total economic blockade on Iraq with Resolution 661. We will never know exactly how many Iraqis have died because of the sanctions. What is certain, however, is that the people of Iraq suffered a humanitarian catastrophe of terrible proportions in the 1990s. The number of dead is beyond our imagination. According to numerous studies commissioned on the subject of Iraq, it is certain that the sanctions against the Iraqi economy in the 1990s cost the lives of between 300,000 and 800,000 children under the age of 5.
Are different yardsticks being used here?
We largely ignore the more than 20 other armed conflicts taking place simultaneously around the globe. But they are every bit as brutal as the conflict in Ukraine. Or: Why don't we take sanctions against Saudi Arabia in view of the great misery in Yemen? The still ongoing war in this war zone is described by the United Nations as the "greatest humanitarian catastrophe in the world".1". Why were no sanctions taken against Ukraine when it bombed its own population in the Donbass between 2014 and 2022?
The decision why the toughest sanctions in a long time are now being taken against Russia is difficult to understand. Presumably, this has primarily to do with international pressure. Sovereign decisions look different! Russia's invasion of Ukraine requires a reaction in the form of condemnation. Anything beyond that, however, is hardly likely to be in the interest of our country. Propping up the Russia sanctions massively damages the credibility of Switzerland's neutrality policy. The urgently needed peacebuilding through Switzerland's Good Offices in this conflict is thus considerably hampered.