STORY IN FOCUS. INTERVIEW WITH MATTHIAS LANZ-PEDRETTI, DEPUTY HEAD OF SECTION AT THE SWISS DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Q1: How long have you been with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and what does your role entail?
I have been with the Department since 2011. My main task is to shape and coordinate Switzerland’s policy regarding the International Criminal Court (ICC). In this capacity, I am a member of the Swiss delegation to its Assembly of States Parties. Switzerland strongly supports the ICC and actively works towards strengthening the institution and the Rome Statute system as a whole. We encourage States Parties to implement the Rome Statute in their national legal system and to cooperate with the Court. In addition, we reach out to non-States Parties and encourage them to accede to the Rome Statute.
Q2: The Swiss government has proposed an amendment of the Rome Statute to include the war crime of starvation in non-international conflicts. Could you explain the content of the proposal?
Under the Rome Statute, starving civilians is already a war crime in international armed conflicts. However, as the large majority of today’s conflicts are internal in nature, civilians are left vulnerable. For this reason, we propose to include the following war crime in the list applicable to non-international armed conflicts: “Intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supplies.” The proposal has been officially circulated to all States Parties of the Rome Statute.
If there is sufficient support for the proposal in the coming months, the Assembly of States Parties could adopt the amendment at its next session in December in The Hague.
Q3: What are the benefits of an amendment?
From the point of view of civilians, it does not matter whether the conflict is legally qualified as being of an international or a non-international character. Their concern is to be protected from conflict induced hunger and to be able to seek justice. Through the amendment, we want to strengthen prevention.
Apart from the direct effect of the extended ICC jurisdiction, we also anticipate that the amendment will encourage further States to include the war crime of starving civilians it in their national legislation.
Finally, we see the amendment as a contribution to the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2417 on conflict and hunger adopted unanimously in May 2018.
Q4: What, if any, pushback have you received against the proposed amendment?
The support for the substance of the proposal is generally quite strong.
Most States Parties acknowledge the desperate need to foster prevention of starvation of civilians, the gap in the Rome Statute and the solid legal basis of the proposal in existing international humanitarian law.
Some States Parties question whether the proposal comes at the right time in light of other discussions concerning the Court.
(Global Rights Compliance released three policy papers in support of the Swiss amendment sequentially in May, June and July 2019 to mirror the dates when the Working Group on Amendments of the Assembly of State Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) met to discuss the proposed amendment. The Papers can be accessed here.)
Q5: What other initiatives in the field of famine prevention and accountability are on the Swiss government’s agenda?
In partnership with UN organizations, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and NGOs, Switzerland does everything it can to achieve zero hunger. We want to end world hunger by 2030. Food supplies alone are not enough, and it is precisely for this reason that Switzerland wants to increase its commitment to assist civilian populations. It is helping with funds, advice and action – for immediate needs and, where required, for the longer term.
Hunger is a driver of conflict and instability. This is why Switzerland has helped paving the way for Security Council Resolution 2417 on conflict and hunger and remains committed to contributing to its implementation. It will do so in particular as Chair of the “Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts” at the UN in New York.
Q6: In a time when respect for, and commitment to, IHL appears to be in regression, what can we do to strengthen it and why does the proposed amendment reflect an important step in that direction?
Switzerland has always seen international criminal justice as one way to implement IHL. This is why political support for and cooperation with the International Criminal Court remains essential.
The adoption of the amendment proposal to the Rome Statute would contribute to enforcing existing IHL rules relating to starvation as a method of warfare.
More generally, continued efforts to strengthen IHL are necessary. In the current multilateral environment, our efforts should focus on national measures to implement IHL; on concrete actions that States can take domestically. Exchanges on IHL between States are also important, as seen at this year’s 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.