Violent conflicts, dictators and repressive regimes leave deep scars that are almost always associated with massive human rights violations, crimes against humanity, massacres and even cases of genocide. Dealing with the past, combating impunity, restoring the rule of law and rehabilitating victims are therefore at the heart of the process of rebuilding affected societies and promoting lasting peace. For Switzerland, dealing with the past is an important instrument of civilian peace building; Switzerland makes a significant contribution to developing a conceptual framework in this field.
The concept of Dealing with the Past stems from the "Principles against impunity", developed by Louis Joinet, which were approved in 1997 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in recognition of the rights of victims and the obligations of States in the fight against impunity when massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have taken place.
The Principles against impunity call for combined initiatives to ensure the realization of these rights and obligations in the following areas: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation, and the guarantee of non-recurrence. This takes the form of fact-finding commissions, truth (and reconciliation) commissions, national, hybrid, special and international courts (such as the International Criminal Court), programmes to rehabilitate and compensate victims, institutional reform measures, and institutional vetting measures. Lastly, highly symbolic actions, such as public apologies or the erection of monuments to victims and resistance fighters are very important elements in remembrance efforts, both at the individual and collective levels.
Since 2003, Switzerland has been resolutely committed to activities concerning dealing with the past within the framework of its human security, peace promotion, human rights and humanitarian policies. The FDFA has developed an overall conceptual approach in this field at both the national and international levels on the basis of the Joinet Principles. It is also contributing to the development of crucial thinking processes in this field, such as:
At the bilateral level, Switzerland is supporting many different initiatives through advisory work, technical and political accompaniment, and financial support in Guatemala, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, Indonesia, Burundi, and Nepal.
At the multilateral level, Switzerland has taken the initiative of tabling resolutions in the field of transitional justice, and is associated with other countries in organising reflection processes at the Human Rights Council.
Seconding experts in this field also an important measure. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia, the Archives of the National Civilian Police as well as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) are processes to which Switzerland has also seconded experts.