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Refugees and conflict


Del Ponte urges Switzerland to welcome more Syrians


As a wealthy country Switzerland could welcome many more Syrians fleeing the conflict, says former Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. She believes the Swiss, as guardians of the Geneva Conventions, should also do more to ensure respect for human rights in Syria.

“With the exception of Italy, Europe does too little for Syrian refugees,” said Del Ponte in an interview in the Le Temps newspaper on Tuesday.

“The EU and Switzerland are rich and could welcome many more Syrians who are fleeing the war. These are people who have lost everything, who are hoping to save their skins and who will all return home when peace is re-established.”

Del Ponte, who currently serves on the United Nations commission of inquiry on Syria, also urged Switzerland to do more in ensuring respect for human rights.

“Switzerland has no possibility of actively intervening politically as it is not at the negotiating table. But it has hosted the Geneva and Lausanne peace talks on Syria and does a great deal in terms of humanitarian aid via the foreign ministry and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),” she said.

“But let’s not forget that our country is the depository of the Geneva Conventions. In this respect the Swiss government could do a lot more to ensure such laws are respected.”

Frustrating

The former war crimes prosecutor said the violence and human rights violations in Syria could remain unpunished as there is no political will to set up a tribunal to judge war crimes.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has been investigating human rights abuses and suspected war crimes for almost six years. The inquiry panel says it has compiled a database and a confidential list of suspects on all sides who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. It has repeatedly called on major powers to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.

“We have tried hard to demand justice for the victims but nothing moves. It’s unacceptable and frustrating,” she said.

The panel has compiled 5,000 detailed interviews as well as information, some of which is being shared with European governments seeking to prosecute their citizens who fight as foreign militants in Syria.

She said: “We have documented horrors which are worse than those committed in the past in the Balkans or in Rwanda.”

The panel members are not able to travel to Syria to interview victims but regularly travel to neighbouring countries Turkey, Jordan and Iraq to visit refugee camps and hold interviews with people who have fled Syria. The commission’s term is due to end on May 2017 but is likely to be extended.

Elusive peace

Since the beginning of the war in Syria in March 2011, almost 14,000 people fleeing Syria have sought asylum in Switzerland. A total of 3,540 were given refugee status and 7,000 were given temporary residence.

The war, pitting rebels mostly from Syria's Sunni majority against a minority rule rooted in Assad's Alawite community, has killed more than 300,000 people. Half the population has been displaced and much of urban Syria has become a wasteland.

Western powers say Syria’s government and its Russian allies are guilty of war crimes for targeting civilians, aid deliveries and hospitals. Moscow and Damascus say they target only militants and deny they have hit hospitals.

Talks in Lausanne on October 15, convened by US Secretary of State John Kerry, failed to agree on a common strategy with Russia to end the conflict in Syria.

Kerry hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and seven foreign ministers from the region – from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – weeks after the collapse of a painstakingly crafted US-Russian ceasefire plan that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.

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