Jakob Kellenberger

Jakob Kellenberger

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Jakob Kellenberger in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

) is a former Swiss diplomat and the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, have given the ICRC a mandate to protect the victims of international and...



Jakob Kellenberger was born in the Swiss canton of Appenzell in 1944.

Kellenberger studied French and Spanish literature at the University of Zurich
University of Zurich
The University of Zurich , located in the city of Zurich, is the largest university in Switzerland, with over 25,000 students. It was founded in 1833 from the existing colleges of theology, law, medicine and a new faculty of philosophy....

. During his studies, he spent some time in Tours, France, and Grenada, Spain. He wrote his undergraduate dissertation on Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

 and his doctoral thesis on the Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca y Barreda González de Henao Ruiz de Blasco y Riaño usually referred as Pedro Calderón de la Barca , was a dramatist, poet and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. During certain periods of his life he was also a soldier and a Roman Catholic priest...

. He completed his studies with a doctorate in literature from the University of Zurich.

While still a student, Kellenberger married Elisabeth Jossi. They have two daughters, Eleonore and Christina.

Diplomatic service

Jakob Kellenberger entered the Swiss diplomatic service in 1974. He was posted to Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

, then to Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 and subsequently to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. From 1984 to 1992, he headed the joint office of the Swiss Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs in charge of the relations to the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 and EFTA
EFTA may refer to:* European Family Therapy Association, an NGO.* European Fair Trade Association, an association of eleven Fair Trade importers in nine European countries....

, and in 1988, he was promoted from the diplomatic rank of minister to that of ambassador. From 1989 to 1991, he headed the transport negotiations (transit) with the European Community on the Swiss side. In 1992, Kellenberger was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. From 1992 to 1999, he held the posts of Secretary of State and head of the Directorate of Political Affairs within the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. From 1994 to 1998, he was also coordinator and chief negotiator for Switzerland's sector-by-sector bilateral negotiations with the European Union.

Presidency of the International Committee of the Red Cross
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, have given the ICRC a mandate to protect the victims of international and...


On 1 January 2000, Jakob Kellenberger was appointed president of the ICRC, a humanitarian organization that today (July 2011) has some 13,000 staff and a network of over 200 delegations. The scope of the ICRC's operations expanded considerably during his term in office.

The ICRC's large-scale operations in Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

, Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

, Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

 and the Near East had and partly still have a particular impact on Jakob Kellenberger's job, as also reflected by his field visits and efforts in the sphere of humanitarian diplomacy. Kellenberger made a decisive contribution towards more intensive cooperation in several spheres between the ICRC and the European Union and its member States. Managing the ICRC's relationship with the United States after 11 September 2001 in the areas of law and humanitarian diplomacy was one of his greatest challenges. In difficult conflict situations, he considered it important to get first-hand experience of the reality on the ground, as witnessed by his trips to southern Lebanon during the war of summer 2006 and to Gaza
Gaza , also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of about 450,000, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territories.Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC,...

 in January 2009, and his numerous visits to Afghanistan and Darfur.

He stated on April 5, 2007 that the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 has inadequate procedures to guarantee the human rights of foreign detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

. He demanded a "more robust" system to determine whether to release hundreds of men who probably will never face trial.

Jakob Kellenberger set great store by a clear strategy for the organization and the adoption of clear positions in a rapidly changing environment. He made a major contribution to achieving those goals.

Jakob Kellenberger lectures at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
ETH Zurich
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich or ETH Zürich is an engineering, science, technology, mathematics and management university in the City of Zurich, Switzerland....

 and the University of Salamanca
University of Salamanca
The University of Salamanca is a Spanish higher education institution, located in the town of Salamanca, west of Madrid. It was founded in 1134 and given the Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218. It is the oldest founded university in Spain and the third oldest European...


Honorary titles

  • Doctor honoris causa from the Law Faculty of Basel University (2003)
  • "Genève reconnaissante" (Grateful Geneva) medal from the city of Geneva (2005)
  • Dr honoris causa from the Political Sciences Faculty of the University of Catania (2006)
  • American Red Cross Chairman's Award for International Humanitarian Leadership (2006)
  • Honorary Adviser to the Zurich Federal Polytechnic Institute (2007)
  • Citizen of honour of the municipality of Heiden (Switzerland) [2009]


  • Jakob Kellenberger, Humanitäres Völkerrecht, Verlag Huber, Frauenfeld/Stuttgart/Wien 2010

  • Jakob Kellenberger, Politicisation of humanitarian work? in: the Humanitarian Response Index 2010, DARA, Madrid 2010

  • Jakob Kellenberger, The ICRC's response to internal displacement: Strengths, challenges and constraints, in: International Review of the Red Cross, September 2009, Volume 91, Number 875

  • Verantwortung in einer solidarischen Weltgemeinschaft, Frank-Walter Steinmeier und Jakob Kellenberger im Gespräch, in: Mensch, wo bist Du? 32. Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, Bremen 2009. Gutersleh Verlagshaus, Gutersleh 2009

  • Gespräch mit Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Die Lügner des Gutes), in: Robert Dempfer Das Rote Kreuz. Von Helden im Rampenlicht und diskreten Helfern, Dentike, Wien 2009, S. 204-222

  • Jakob Kellenberger, Diplomat und IKRK-President, im Gespräch mit Hansjörg Erny, Zytglogge Verlag, Bern 2006

  • Jakob Kellenberger: International Humanitarian Law and Other Legal Regimes: Interplay in Situations of Violence. In: International Review of the Red Cross. 851/2003. ICRC, S. 645-653, ISSN 1560-7755