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EU and Arab leaders meet to discuss human rights

The talks in Geneva come against a backdrop of continuing violence in the Middle East Keystone Archive

Representatives from the European Union and the Arab League are meeting in Geneva to discuss the possibility of a future international conference on the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention in Israel's occupied territories.

Switzerland is involved in the process as the depository state of the convention and was asked by the United Nations General Assembly in October to take diplomatic steps to ensure it is internationally observed. The convention is aimed at protecting civilians in regions of conflict.

The Swiss authorities have been working behind the scenes over the past few months to investigate the logistics of arranging a conference on the issue.

Muriel Berset Kohen, spokeswoman at the Swiss foreign ministry, said the aim of the two-day meeting in Geneva was to define the goals, modalities and timing of a future conference.

“There is no previously existing model on the modalities of such a conference,” Berset Kohen told swissinfo.

“Switzerland’s task is to determine the wish of the contracting parties on the timing, modalities and of course the objectives of such a conference,” she added.

The foreign ministry also confirmed that Switzerland’s role as a mediator would be important in the negotiation process.

“As a depositary state, Switzerland plays the role of facilitator,” Berset Kohen said.

“It is of course not for us to decide when and how to hold this conference, since that is up to the contracting parties, but we can facilitate this process.”

Countries which make up the Arab League have expressed strong support for such a conference and are pushing for a speedy resolution to the negotiations about the timing and agenda.

The support of the European Union in the current discussions is considered by analysts to be crucial if agreement is to be reached on the modalities of a future conference.

A first international conference on the Fourth Geneva Convention took place in 1999, and the Swiss foreign ministry announced in May of this year it was committed to the goal of convening a new conference in the future.

Switzerland’s involvement in the discussions, argues Berset Kohen, is an important step towards peace in the Middle East.

“Our aim is to reach as broad a consensus as possible, and also to strengthen the credibility of international humanitarian law,” she said.

“We are convinced that by strengthening the humanitarian law and the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention, we are actually contributing to a lasting peace in the region.”

Several countries, including the United States and Israel, are opposed to a future conference and are not participating in the consultations in Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

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