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Government agrees Swiss soldiers can support UN humanitarian demining

Published on 12/06/2020

A group of four Swiss army officers is set to help a United Nations agency in Geneva with its humanitarian demining activities.

The Federal Council (executive body) on Friday agreed that the Swiss soldiers can help set up an information system for UN peace missions developed at the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (CIDHG).

This mission follows a request from the Geneva-based UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

“This cooperation will allow the Swiss Army to support the United Nations in its peace promotion work and to benefit from the experience gained by the officers,” it said in a statement.

Neutrality debate

Switzerland sent military observers to work in a UN peacekeeping mission for the first time in 1990, a move that sparked debates in the neutral nation. Switzerland officially joined the UN in 2002.

Thirty years later, some 35 Swiss officers and military specialists are active in UN peacekeeping missions around the world: in the Middle East, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Mali, Kashmir and Western Sahara.

The Swiss army officers who take part in these UN missions are unarmed. The tasks of the so-called “blue berets” and liaison officers include the monitoring of ceasefire agreements and acting as go-between for conflict parties. Staff officers are also deployed as military specialists, for example in mission headquarters.

Peace promotion at the international level is one of the three priority tasks of the Swiss army and is anchored in military law. However, the deployment of armed “blue helmet” officers is not allowed.

In addition, since 2014, Swiss officers have worked at the UN headquarters in New York and since 2016 at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) headquarters in Vienna.