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Guantanamo torturers “must face justice”

Those responsible for torturing prisoners at the Guantanamo prison camp must be made to answer for their crimes before a court, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey tells

Calmy-Rey also discusses the major challenges of defending international humanitarian law. Interviewed on the 150th anniversary of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, she says that for her the Red Cross represents “a humanitarian ideal”.

She also said Switzerland was prepared to receive “one or two” former detainees of the Guantanamo camp constructed by the United States on the island of Cuba. What does the Red Cross movement represent for you?

Micheline Calmy-Rey: The Red Cross movement represents for me a humanitarian ideal. It is synonymous with working to help victims and civilian populations. Henry Dunant embodies this ideal. How would you describe the links between Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)?

M. C-R.: The Red Cross movement is neutral and independent. That said, Switzerland with its long humanitarian tradition shares the same ideological principles as the ICRC and makes a significant contribution to the organisation.

Switzerland has for 60 years been the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions.

It also fulfils the roles of ‘notary’ and ‘moral guardian’ of these texts. Would you describe yourself as an ambassador for the Geneva Conventions?

M. C-R.: Switzerland has the same obligations as all other signatory states, in other words to respect international humanitarian law. But we feel under a greater moral obligation because, as I said, the rules of the Geneva Conventions are a central plank of Switzerland’s foreign policy. Do you feel humanitarian law has been called into question by the abuses committed in the fight against terror and the number of civilian victims in recent conflicts?

M. C-R.: Violations of international humanitarian law, such as those observed by all parties in Sri Lanka, do not cast doubt on the relevance of the rules of the Geneva Conventions. That said, there are problems in interpreting and implementing these rules. There needs to be discussion on this issue and it has only just begun. Switzerland contributed to the creation of the Red Crystal, the additional emblem of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Judging by the situation in Gaza, this new emblem has not led to any real improvement on the ground…

M. C-R.: Adopting this new emblem helped the movement become more universal by enabling the Israeli and Palestinian aid organisations to join the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. And this helped improve cooperation between the Israeli Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Cross. Palestinian ambulances were allowed in to East Jerusalem, which is significant progress. As foreign minister your job is to promote humanitarian law, but also to defend the economic interests of the country. How do you reconcile these two, sometimes contradictory, duties?

M. C-R.: There is no contradiction in theory. We know that if there are violations of international humanitarian law and non-respect for human rights, there are risks of instability, of conflict, which are very damaging for the economy. Do Swiss businesses really understand this message?

M. C-R.: They not only understand it, they are interested in applying it. The companies understand that if they want stable legal and political frameworks, they have to ensure human rights are respected. Barack Obama has announced the closure of the Guantanamo prison camp and condemned the use of torture. However, he has since given out contradictory signals, notably refusing to demand that those responsible be made to face justice. How do you judge the United States president’s actions in this respect?

M. C-R.: Switzerland repeatedly criticised the creation of the camp. So, we of course welcomed the decision to close it. We saw this as a strong signal of the United States will to respect international law. The question of the presumed perpetrators of torture being brought to justice has not been settled in the US. But as a general rule this type of violation of international law should be fully investigated and those responsible made to answer before a court. You don’t have the impression that Obama wants to return to Realpolitik, or a system of politics based on practical rather than moral considerations?

M. C-R.: Switzerland never claimed that the US was going to conduct a perfect foreign policy! In that respect, the United States is just like all other countries – Switzerland included: they defend their own interests.

Regarding Guantanamo, we would like to play a part by accepting in one or two former prisoners. An interdepartmental group is looking into it and examining the files of the people concerned. Is it not outrageous that other countries should be asked to take in Guantanamo detainees when they were not responsible for setting up the prison?

M. C-R.: Guantanamo is a sad reality. So, it is logical that the international community should try to make sure this kind of place ceases to exist.

Federico Bragagnini and Andreas Keiser, (Adapted from French by Morven McLean)

The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private and independent organisation with close ties to Switzerland. Based in Geneva, the organisation is Switzerland’s main partner in international humanitarian aid.

Switzerland is the third-largest contributor to funding the ICRC after the United States and Britain. In 2008, Bern paid SFr101.05 million ($94.72 million), which included SFr70 million for the headquarters and SFr30.5 million for aid programmes. Switzerland is set to contribute a total of SFr105 million for 2009.

Switzerland is the depository state for the Geneva Conventions, which set the standards for international humanatarian law worldwide.

The members of the ICRC Assembly, the organisation’s supreme governing body (16 people as of January 2009), are all co-opted members of Swiss nationality. However, staff are recruited throughout the world. The ICRC’s president is Jakob Kellenberger, aged 64, a former state secretary in the Swiss foreign ministry.

Spending at the ICRC reached a record level in 2008. More than SFr1 billion was needed to face humanitarian crises in many countries.

Sudan was given SFr109 million in ICRC aid, Somalia SFr102 million, Iraq SFr95 million, Afghanistan SFr70 million, and Israel and the Palestinian territories SFr62 million.

More than 121,000 tones of food (more than double that of 2007, was distributed to 2.79 million people. Water, construction and other projects helped more than 15 million people. The ICRC also visited half a million people detained in 83 countries.

The organisation employs 11,000 people around the world, of which 1,323 are expatriates. A total of 816 are employed in Geneva.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR