Swiss authorities criticised for rejecting wounded Ukrainians

Medical workers assist patients in a hospital in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Former Swiss government ministers have spoken out against a decision to deny war-wounded Ukrainians hospital care over neutrality concerns.

This content was published on July 19, 2022 - 17:25, ug

Ruth Dreifuss and Didier Burkhalter, two former cabinet members, have voiced their objections to an official government position on attempts to treat wounded Ukrainians in Swiss hospitals. 

On Monday, it was revealed that the foreign ministry had rejected the idea for legal and practical reasons linked to Swiss neutrality. The request was originally made by a NATO department called the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre.

Dreifuss told the CH media newspapers on Tuesday that even though Switzerland is not a NATO member it was part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace External linkwhich it joined in 1996 to participate in humanitarian activities. 

"The duty to care for the sick and wounded - military or civilian - who cannot be cared for because of war must take precedence over all other considerations. Wasn't this Henri Dunant's message on the Solferino battlefield?," she said.

Burkhalter was less scathing but also emphasised Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition that is respected worldwide.  He wanted the nation to accept all people who need care, regardless of which side they are on in the war. He likened taking in the injured to accepting refugees and said it has nothing directly to do with neutrality but should be based on rendering basic humanitarian assistance.

 “I am convinced that the Swiss government essentially has to share these considerations and will base its next decisions on humanitarian principles,” he said.

International treaties

The SRF public broadcaster and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper say the NATO request stated that Ukraine could decide alone about the details of potential evacuations.

In addition, it did not exclude the repatriation of recovered soldiers to the frontlines - which is not allowed according to international treaties and went against Switzerland's traditional neutrality.

A senior foreign ministry official told the NZZ adds that Switzerland is one of the few countries with a humanitarian office in Ukraine, providing not only medical supplies and equipment but also supporting rehabilitation and training programmes.

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