Strengthening international humanitarian law: use of biological, laser or fragmentation weapons is considered a war crime

Bern, 07.07.2020 - The International Criminal Court (ICC) will now be able to punish the use of biological weapons, blinding laser weapons and certain fragmentation weapons as war crimes: Switzerland has ratified the corresponding amendments to the Rome Statute and today handed over its instrument of ratification to the UN in New York. The amendments, which will enter into force in Switzerland next year, provide greater protection for people in war zones. Promoting international humanitarian law is an essential component of Swiss foreign policy.

International humanitarian law (IHL) is designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and preserve a measure of humanity in armed conflicts. Violations of IHL have grave consequences for people in war zones. In order to safeguard global peace efforts and to ensure long-term stability, it is essential that war crimes do not go unpunished. The states parties to the ICC therefore decided in December 2017 to extend Article 8 of the Rome Statute and to make the use of three types of weapon punishable as a war crime internationally. The use of biological weapons, blinding laser weapons or weapons that cause injuries from fragments that cannot be detected by X-rays will henceforth be prosecuted by the ICC as war crimes.

Punishable as war crimes in Switzerland since 2011
This extension of the ICC's jurisdiction will strengthen the international criminal justice system and provide better protection for people in war zones. Promoting IHL is an essential component of Swiss foreign policy. In keeping with its humanitarian tradition, Switzerland has been campaigning for a ban on these weapons for decades and already in 2011 made the use of these weapons punishable as a war crime under Swiss law. The Federal Assembly subsequently approved the amendments to the Rome Statute in December last year. Once the mandatory referendum deadline had passed, Switzerland was able to officially submit its instrument of ratification.

Fighting impunity for crimes under international law
By ratifying the amendments, Switzerland is helping to ensure that IHL is properly enforced and the victims of war crimes obtain justice. This is a basic prerequisite for the effective prevention of war crimes, lasting peace and, ultimately, stability. At the same time, Switzerland is reaffirming its full support for the ICC as an integral part of the rules-based order. The setting-up of the ICC itself was a significant international achievement in the fight against impunity for the most serious of crimes. By systematically prosecuting crimes the ICC helps ensure that IHL and human rights are enforced at the international level. Switzerland has therefore expressed its regret over the recent sanctions imposed on the ICC, its staff and their family members. The ICC, based in The Hague, prosecutes and punishes individuals accused of the gravest of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. In principle, responsibility for the prosecution of individuals lies in their respective countries. Cases are referred to the ICC when a country is unwilling or unable to prosecute these crimes itself. The ICC was established under the Rome Statute of 1998. Switzerland has always been strongly committed to the ICC and ratified the Rome Statute in 2001. Worldwide there are now 123 states parties to the Rome Statute.

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