The aim of this chapter is to give an overview about the peculiarities of Switzerland in the history of international law, looking into the origin of what nowadays Switzerland represents within the international community.
Switzerland is one of the most prominent states in terms of the hosting of international organisations and NGOs. The international community values Switzerland’s role as a mediator, due to its long-standing international policy of neutrality: Within the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 Switzerland’s independence was recognized by the European powers. Furthermore, after the Napoleonic wars both at the Congress of Vienna in 1814/1815 and within the Treaty of Paris (20 November 1815), the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland was formally recognized by the international community. Switzerland also enjoys positive international reputation, stemming from its humanitarian engagements which began to take root in the 19th century. But what are the historical legal foundations that have shaped Switzerland’s role?
The following sections will examine two prominent developments in Switzerland’s history of international law between the 18th and 20th century. The first development to be discussed is the dissemination of the theories of natural law and the law of nations during the 18th century in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (II.1.). The ideas of EMER DE VATTEL are key here: he made an essential contribution to the evolution of modern international law (II.2.) The second development examines the emergence of international humanitarian law that took place in Switzerland in the 19th century which led to the preeminent role of Switzerland in this field of law. First, the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross by, among others, HENRY DUNANT will be discussed (III.1.). Furthermore, the efforts of Zurich-born lawyer JOHANN CASPAR BLUNTSCHLI in his attempts to codify international law and his contributions to the founding of the International Law Institut (Institut de droit International) together with GUSTAVE MOYNIER will be addressed (III.2.).