Switzerland is not doing enough to combat suffering in the world, says Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter. The country would have liked to host the UN’s first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), under way in Istanbul.
In an interview aired by Swiss public television, SRF, on Monday, Burkhalter described the meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate the principles of pluralism in politics and religious tolerance, and to highlight Switzerland’s values.
Burkhalter, who was scheduled to speak at the summit on Monday, declared that humanitarian aid cannot be effective without peace.
“The best way to end the suffering is by ending the conflicts and restoring peace,” he said.
Manuel Bessler, Switzerland’s humanitarian aid delegate added that the growing problem of violations of the Geneva Convention is another primary concern of the Swiss foreign minister.
“[Burkhalter] will remind the member states of their obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, the first article of the Geneva Convention,” Bessler said.
In addition to promoting compliance with international humanitarian law, Burkhalter said in the SRF interview that Switzerland also wants to demonstrate the importance of combining policies that cover development, peace, and human rights in order to be truly effective.
Although Istanbul was selected instead of Geneva as the location for the meeting, Burkhalter said the Swiss took the decision in stride. “No, we’re not disappointed. But we’re aware that this is the sort of thing we know how to handle.”
Six thousand government and business leaders, aid groups and donors are taking part in the two-day summit. Its objective is to try to develop a more coherent response to what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called the worst global humanitarian situation since World War Two.
Moon called on the international community to do more for needy people in regions of crisis. “The urgency has increased,” he told attendees at the meeting on Monday.
According to the UN, currently a record 125 million people worldwide are in need of help to survive, with 60 million of them fleeing from desperate situations in their countries.
“We have to stand up for international humanitarian law,” said UN second-in-command Jan
Eliasson at a pre-meeting news conference on Sunday. “We have seen a decay, a lack of respect for international law which is causing enormous damage in the world.”
However, not all NGOs were convinced that the summit would prove useful. Médecines Sans Frontières (MSF), which had been heavily involved in the summit’s organisation, issued a statement on May 6 saying it would be pulling out of the event. MSF called the event a “fig leaf” that would do no more than pay lip service to pressing humanitarian aid issues.
“We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations,” the statement said.
“As shocking violations of international humanitarian law and refugee rights continue on a daily basis, WHS participants will be pressed to a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs’. The summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored.”
swissinfo.ch and agencies