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Protecting civilians in conflicts

Child soliders/small arms

(Keystone)

The plight of civilians in conflicts is the topic of an international meeting underway in Lucerne. Representatives of 13 countries as well as non-governmental organisations will discuss ways to curb the misuse of small arms, and human rights.

The key theme of the two-day meeting is Human Security; a term used to define a series of proposals aimed at protecting the individual from threats of violence in conflicts.

Ambassador Raimund Kunz from the Swiss foreign ministry underlines the urgency of the problem: "The civilian population is the first and most important victim of conflicts. There are around 70 to 80 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world."

The foreign ministers will discuss measures to ban anti-personnel mines, the uncontrolled trade in small arms, to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as the setting up of a permanent international court to deal with war criminals.

In a novel approach, the meeting in Lucerne is also trying to work out a strategy to persuade so called non-state actors in conflicts, such as paramilitary or rebel groups, to respect humanitarian principles. It will also prepare for a United Nations conference next year dedicated to the issue of small arms.

Switzerland has been a member of an informal group of countries involved with questions of human security. Norway and Canada launched the grouping in a joint initiative in 1998.

Today it also includes the Netherlands, Austria, the Irish Republic, Greece, Slovenia, Jordan, Mali, Thailand, Chile and South Africa (as an observer).

by Urs Geiser


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