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Report finds Switzerland too cautious over apartheid-era sanctions

A new government report analysing Switzerland’s relations with South Africa during the apartheid years concludes that, with hindsight, Switzerland's decision not to apply sanctions had been too cautious.

This content was published on October 1, 1999 - 16:28

A new government report analysing Switzerland’s relations with South Africa during the apartheid years concludes that, with hindsight, Switzerland's decision not to apply sanctions had been too cautious.

The newly-released report was compiled by an interdepartmental group, which sifted available documents in the various ministries but did not consult archives or interview persons concerned.

The report makes clear that Switzerland always morally condemned South Africa’s apartheid regime.

It laid down an arms embargo against South Africa as early as 1963 and put a ceiling on capital exports.

However, Switzerland did not join international sanctions against South Africa and tried to maintain normal trade relations.

Switzerland has never believed in imposing international sanctions, saying that they tend to affect the poorest sections of the country against which they are applied.

During the Cold War, Switzerland also rejected sanctions on the grounds of its policy of neutrality.

The report reiterates self-criticism first made in a reply to a parliamentary question two years ago: The government says that, while the Swiss sanctions policy was understandable in the light of the times, it was too cautious and not forward-looking.

The report makes clear that the problems posed by Switzerland's policy of maintaining universal trade relations and showing international solidarity were not resolved.

With regard to the use of Switzerland as a turntable to bypass international sanctions, the report says there is evidence of oil multinationals making deals from their offices in Switzerland.

However, this was not an offence under Swiss law because no goods ever touched Swiss soil.

The report says that, in light of the many unanswered questions, Swiss-South African relations should be more closely examined as part of a Swiss National Science Foundation project.

Written by SRI staff.

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