14 March 2023

Swiss president defends neutrality and stresses human rights

Swiss President Alain Berset says Swiss neutrality must retain its central elements, notably a commitment to humanitarian law and human rights.

“Swiss weapons must not be used in wars,” Berset told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

However, he said these principles are more important than ever even if neutrality has to be adapted.

“We have to ask ourselves where we will stand as a country, where Europe will stand in five, ten or 30 years. Everything we decide today must be measured against this yardstick, ” he said.

Referring to the war in Ukraine, Berset said it is necessary to refocus on the fundamental elements of neutrality.

One of the key issues for Switzerland must be what it can do to protect the civilian population in Ukraine, he added in the interview.

“Being neutral doesn’t mean being indifferent,” he said.


Berset said Switzerland is strongly committed and has very quickly adopted unprecedented international sanctions, he said. There are also efforts being made in Ukraine itself, for example in the field of mine clearance, he continued.

He said he is concerned about “a warlike frenzy” among some people but “this feeling is based on a short-term vision,” he said.

Berset said Switzerland had a long debate about weapons exports a few years ago and parliament approved a legal reform. “What we need now is stability”, he said.

Switzerland is a reliable partner and its position is “generally” well understood, he added in the interview.

Geneva’s role

Asked about criticism by other countries of Switzerland’s position, Berset said he respected that fact that “other countries have a different position. But the Swiss position must also be respected.”

But he reiterated that Switzerland can’t change its policy at short notice without taking into account the current legal basis.

He also warned against giving up neutrality as it would have an impact on Switzerland’s role as host country for international organisations in the city of Geneva and as mediator.

“I sometimes have the impression that in Switzerland we are not sufficiently aware of the central importance of Geneva,” he said.