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Cornelio Sommaruga

  Cornelio Sommaruga (born December 29, 1932 in Rome) is a prominent Swiss humanitarian, lawyer and diplomat who is best known for being President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from 1987 to 1999. Today, he chairs the International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) in Geneva. He is also active on a number of boards, such as the International Cancer Foundation.



Early years and education

Cornelio Sommaruga was born in Rome, Italy, where his father had a professional activity as a commercial lawyer and was stationed during WWII at the Swiss embassy responsible for foreign interests. In fact, he spoke Italian long before he learned German. He was brought up by Catholic parents and remained a devout Christian throughout his life. He was profoundly influenced by his early years in Rome. The period in which his father represented Liberia at the Vatican probably inspired him the most in terms of his long diplomatic and humanitarian career. Despite his connection to Rome, he has close ties with Ticino, his family's canton of origin.

He went to grammar and high school in Italy and attended university in Zurich, Switzerland, where he obtained a doctorate in law in 1957. It was only during this period that he learned German, one of the four national languages of Switzerland.

Professional career

Cornelio Sommaruga entered the Swiss diplomatic corps after working two years in the banking sector from 1957 to 1959. He served as a diplomat in The Hague, Rome, Geneva and Bern. From 1968 to 1973, he was the deputy of the Swiss delegation to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the senior representative to UNCTAD, GATT and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), where he further developed his diplomatic and negotiating skills. From 1973 to 1975, he served as the deputy to the Secretary General of EFTA in Geneva. From there, he returned to Bern where he held senior posts at the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss government, i.a. as Ambassador, Delegate for Trade Agreements. From 1984 to 1987, he was Undersecretary of State at the Office of Foreign Economic Affairs, a job he left when he was nominated to the ICRC in 1986.

Cornelio Sommaruga served as President of the ICRC from 1987 to 1999, succeeding Alexandre Hay. During his tenure, the budget and the international activities of the Committee increased considerably. He maintained the neutrality of the ICRC while keeping close ties to all governments of States signatories of the Geneva conventions. One of his initiatives was to propose in 1992 the introduction of the a new additional Red Crystal symbol symbol representing the Red Cross movement, alongside with the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Among his challenges at the ICRC were:

  • bringing the ICRC in tune with the younger generation of delegates to reduce the defections which plagued the ICRC when he took over as President
  • the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War
  • the genocide in Rwanda in 1994
  • the killing of six delegates of the ICRC in Grosny in December 1996
  • the debate within the ICRC of the role of the Red Cross in World War II and the issue of the Holocaust

From 2000 to the end of 2006 Cornelio Sommarug served as President of Intiatives of Change International, an international movement working to build bridges of trust across the world's divides. In that capacity he was able to support peace and reconciliation initiatives in Africa's Great Lakes region and in Sierra Leone. Until May 2007 he will be a major player on the board of the Caux Foundation - the Swiss chapter of Initiatives of Change - and an active Chairman of the Swiss Cancer Society as well as a prominent personality on a number of charitable and corporate boards.

Family life

Despite an intense political and management career, Cornelio Sommaruga maintained strong family ties. Family gatherings were extremely meaningful to him in his early years, and as a result, Dr. Sommaruga has promoted strong family social values among his family just as in the institutions with which he worked. He married Ornella Marzorati in 1957 and he and his wife have six children. He and his family have preserved the ritual of annual family reunions at the same time each year, gathering their children and 15 grandchildren.


  • Personalité suisse la plus populaire auprès des journalistes étrangers, Association de la Presse Etrangère en Suisse, 2003
  • Prix de la Fondation Dr. J.E. Brandenberger, 2003
  • North-South prize, Council of Europe, 2001
  • Culture, Canton of Basel-land, 1998
  • International Society for Human Rights, Swiss section, 1996
  • Josef Krainer, Graz, 1996
  • Century Foundation, BSI, 1995
  • Dr. Jean Mayer Award for Global Citizenship, Tufts University

+ seven Honorary Doctorates

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cornelio_Sommaruga". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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