Ukraine: Federal Council confirms position on re-export of war materiel by third countries

Bern, 10.03.2023 - At its meeting on 10 March, the Federal Council considered the issue of the re-export of Swiss-manufactured war materiel by third countries and decided to maintain its current practice. This is based on the War Materiel Act and on Switzerland’s long-standing humanitarian tradition as a neutral state. The Federal Council is committed to the values of Swiss neutrality and will continue to work to ensure the benefits of neutrality are realised.

The Federal Council has taken note of the parliamentary debate on the re-export of Swiss-manufactured war materiel by third countries. It reaffirms its position against authorising the re-export of war materiel. This position is based on the War Materiel Act but also on the values held by Switzerland, its neutrality, tradition of humanitarian aid, commitment to international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, and its international practice of mediation in the service of peace. Switzerland's tradition of neutrality does not equate to indifference towards Russia's aggression against Ukraine, which is why Switzerland has repeatedly and strongly condemned this aggression and demanded the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the entire territory of Ukraine. Switzerland also supports the European Union's sanctions.

The Federal Council is continuing to monitor the debates in Parliament and will, if necessary, make a further statement regarding the parliamentary initiatives under discussion.

Requests from Germany, Denmark and Spain

In the last 12 months, the Federal Council and the Federal Administration have received requests from Germany, Denmark and Spain for the re-export of Swiss war materiel to Ukraine. The requests have been denied based on Article 22a paragraph 2 letter a of the War Materiel Act. The Federal Council notes that when the War Materiel Act was revised, it wished to retain the flexibility provided by Article 22b, which was deleted in the revision, and that it maintains this position.

War materiel exports to Russia

Switzerland has applied the law of neutrality, which is part of customary international law, in its relations with Russia and Ukraine since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The principle continues to apply during Russia's current military aggression against Ukraine. Under the law of neutrality, Switzerland must observe the principle of equal treatment with respect to arms exports in accordance with Article 7 in conjunction with Article 9 of the Hague Convention (V) of 1907.

In addition to international law, weapons exports are also governed by Swiss legislation on export controls. Article 22a paragraph 2 letter a of the War Materiel Act provides that applications for the export of war materiel will not be authorised if the destination country is involved in internal or international armed conflict. This is the case with Ukraine and Russia.

Since 23 November 2022 there has also been a general arms embargo against Ukraine and Russia based on Article 2a of the Ordinance on Measures Relating to the Situation in Ukraine.

The Federal Council has however stated that the supply of war materiel to European defence companies remains possible because these exports do not violate the law on neutrality.

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