For conflict parties in other countries Switzerland, with its federal structure, four national languages and cultural communities, is often an interesting model. There is therefore a high demand for its expertise and instruction on the federal approach. But Switzerland's state structure and constitution are not just transferred to distant regions of the world.
The staff and experts of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs are keen to use the Swiss model to set in motion a discussion and learning process. These efforts focus on the following aspects: decentralization of national functions, regional self-determination and self-administration and the sharing of rights and powers.
Elites of centralized states tend to misunderstand any desire for autonomy by minorities as a first step towards complete secession. On the other hand, the representatives of minorities – many of which suffer from discrimination – tend to see complete independence as the only solution. Switzerland’s history can be a source of inspiration. It shows that tolerating and even cultivating the cultural, linguistic and religious identities of minorities, and encouraging their participation with equal rights in the political system, lead to stability and prosperity.
During peace negotiations, it is important to outline a state structure that takes the needs of all sections of the population into account in the constitution. Experience shows that it is best to limit constitutional changes to areas where agreement is essential in order to achieve a peace settlement, such as:
Constitutions should be loosely designed, however, so that in the post-war phase the population can decide on the new structures in a democratic process.
With the Swiss model as its starting point, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) wishes to set in motion a process of reflection, discussion and learning covering the following aspects:
In recent years the FDFA has organized study trips to Switzerland for delegations from such different states and regions as Georgia, Iraq, Nepal, Indonesia or Kosovo, and Swiss experts have advised conflict parties on the ground. Swiss constitutional and mediation experts have also made constructive and innovative proposals in a wide variety of peace negotiations in the search for a solution to long drawn-out conflicts.
In recent years Switzerland has often deployed experts to observe post-war elections in countries with weak democratic traditions. The FDFA can call on experts from the Swiss Expert Pool for Civilian Peacebuilding for these missions. The first elections after an armed conflict are often a milestone in the peace process. In these cases simple observation is not enough. Switzerland also provides support for election processes (election laws, election registers, electoral commissions, free access to the media) through mediation, consultation and training.