Switzerland is well known for its humanitarian involvement: it began in the second half of the 19th century and was further developed during the 20th century – influenced by two world wars and the hostile developments in Africa post-1945.
In 2012, Switzerland spent around 2.8 billion francs on humanitarian causes, a sum equal to 0.45% of the gross national income. The humanitarian involvement of the official Switzerland began in 1863 with the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Information on its beginnings and, in particular, on international conventions and conferences can be referenced from the Foreign Affairs fonds (1518-1971). The sections on Martial Law and Victims of War are worthy of particular attention. Interesting notes can also be found in the fonds of the Federal Political Department (1848-1962), again under Martial Law and War Victims. Additional information is available from the fonds of the Swiss Red Cross SRC (1963-1994).
Aid for Europe's reconstruction
The huge scale of destruction during the Second World War and Switzerland's foreign political isolation caused the country to establish the Swiss Donation Organisation in 1944. During the second half of the 1940s, the organisation cooperated with Swiss cantons and private aid organisations to grant support to European countries by providing, among other things, relief, expert help and loans. The Swiss Donation Organisation gave way to the Swiss Aid for Europe in 1948. Information on both organisations and their activities can be referenced from the fonds of the Swiss Aid for Europe (1944-1954). Information on other private activities is available from the fonds of the Relief organisation for German emergency zones (1946-1952).
The Confederation deployed the Technical Cooperation Service as of 1960. Information on specific workgroups, projects in various countries and voluntary service can be found in the fonds of the Delegate for Technical Cooperation (1919-1989). These documents relate to, among other things, the deployment of Swiss experts and also to support in the form of grants. Since beginning its involvement, the Confederation has always cooperated with international organisations and private relief organisations. Corresponding records can be found in the fonds of the Conference on Trade and Development (1964-1986), the Swiss Church Aid (1943-1989) and the Swiss Red Cross SRC (1863-1994).
During the 1970s, Switzerland's humanitarian involvement gained greater significance in the public debate. It was reinterpreted by the Federal Act of 1976 on international development cooperation and humanitarian aid with closer ties to the other areas of foreign policy. Switzerland's humanitarian involvement is still based on the principle of "helping others to help themselves" and is aimed at achieving economic and social development in each country. Information on its alignment and activities can be referenced from the fonds of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (1958-2001) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (1961-2005 and 2001-).
The project agreements with individual countries are also documented. The fonds of coordination agencies such as the agency in Pretoria provide insights into the business documents of concrete activities. The personal files of Walter Fust (1996-2008), the former head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), contain information on the legal and political background of development cooperation.
Tips for further research
- Historical Dictionary of Switzerland with, among others, articles on Swiss Donation (ger), humanitarian aid (ger) and development cooperation (ger).
- Website of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC): background information on the history of the SDC.
- Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland with numerous digitalized and thematically edited documents on Swiss foreign policy since 1848 in the database Dodis, regarding for example Switzerland's development cooperation, humanitarian activities and good offices or the ICRC.
Publications of the Federal Archives
Last modification 04.11.2019