Today in Legal History: Swiss Neutrality Recognized by League of Nations

The League of Nations officially recognized Switzerland as neutral on February 13, 1920. This was not a new position for the Swiss; the Treaty of Westphalia did the same, as did the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Ironically, Switzerland did not join the United Nations until 2002, although it had been actively involved prior to joining.

Switzerland is not the only neutral UN member; Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden are also formally neutral. Permanent neutrality prevents the country from participating in conflicts and creates rights and duties in peacetime as well. A neutral country’s own territory and airspace are respected, and it is also forbidden to help or harm a belligerent – even if the same treatment is accorded for both sides. A neutral country may not be involved in an armed conflict as a peacekeeper; it may only take arms for its own self-defense.

Switzerland took on the position of neutrality for a pragmatic reason. As Switzerland borders Germany, France, and Italy, it was at high risk of invasion and perpetual warfare. Neutrality allowed Switzerland to keep its independence.

More information is available at:


Today in Legal History: United Nations Established by Charter


In the aftermath of World War I, the League of Nations was established to prevent further war.  President Woodrow Wilson was an enthusiastic proponent.  Although the League established several agencies and successfully negotiated agreements, it was considered a failure upon the outbreak of World War II.  Many of its problems were structural; the League had no military force or enforcement authority and the United States was not a member.

As World War II continued, countries were forced into closer cooperation.  When the war ended, many believed the League needed to be replaced.  Its successor was the United Nations.  The UN inherited several of the structures established by the League of Nations with the addition of enforcement authority.  The United Nations was named by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

More information available at:

  • Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements, by Jan Edmund Osmanczyk; edited by Anthony Mango, 4 volumes, Reference Desk – KZ4968.O86 2002
  • The Law and Practice of the United Nations, by Benedetto Conforti, 4th Floor – KZ4986.C6613 2005
  • The United Nations: Law and Practice, edited by Franz Cede and Lilly Sucharipa-Behrmann, 3rd Floor – JZ4984.5.U5415 2001



“By Choice, Not By Chance”

“… 867 million women of childbearing age in developing countries have a need for modern contraceptives”, according to a new “State of the World Population 2012” report from the United Nations Population Fund. Focusing on the issue of family planning, this 140-page study takes a rights-based approach to the topic, and looks at the social and economic impacts that the lack of family planning rights has on women and girls. It addresses the challenges in universalizing the right to family planning and provides a variety of supporting data to underscore its arguments.


UN Report on Israeli Naval Blockade of Palestine

A recent analysis of the Israeli naval blockade of Palestine by a UN committee threatens to turn up the diplomatic heat between Turkey and Israel. The deaths precipitated by the attempt by a flotilla originating in Turkey to land humanitarian supplies in Gaza shattered the Israel – Turkey partnership to the point where Turkey has threatened to accompany the next flotilla with Turkish warships. A legal analysis of the Israeli blockade forms an important part of the report.


International Gay and Human Rights Commission Now an Official UN NGO

Stephanie Farrior recently blogged on IntLawGrrls that the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission was declared an official non-governmental organization by the Economic and Social Council’s Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations. This Consultative status is governed by ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 and permits NGOs to submit agenda items to the Council and its ad hoc committees and commissions. In addition, recognized NGOs can participate in international conferences and their preparatory meetings among other privileges. The vote to grant consultative status to IGLHRC was welcomed by human rights advocates the world over and championed by the U.S. delegation to ECOSOC.