Swiss challenge legality of Israeli barrier

The eight-metre-high barrier divides Israelis from Palestinians Keystone

Switzerland has called on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to judge the legality of Israel’s controversial security barrier in the West Bank.

This content was published on February 12, 2004 - 16:51

The foreign ministry wants the court to decide whether the wall contravenes international law and breaches the rights of civilians in the Palestinian territories.

Paul Seger, a senior Swiss foreign ministry official, said the court should “make clear once and for all” if the fourth Geneva Convention - which protects civilians during times of war - was applicable in the occupied territories.

He stressed that Switzerland was the depository state of the Geneva Conventions, which form the backbone of international humanitarian law.

Seger said the appeal was an “important opportunity to ensure that human rights are respected”.

Security issues

Switzerland says the 600-kilometre barrier currently under construction through the West Bank hampers the free movement of many Palestinians and cuts them off from their workplaces, farmland and schools.

“I am very happy about the government’s position. They have given a clear answer to my request and have come out against the wall, said Ruth-Gaby Vermot, a Swiss parliamentarian.

Last October, Vermot called on the Swiss government to clearly state its position on the Israeli barrier.

Israel says the barrier is needed to keep out suicide bombers; the Palestinians say the wall is just an attempt to seize land.

Last month the Swiss government criticised Israel for building the barrier - a network of metal fences, razor wire and concrete wall - saying it was a threat to peace in the region.

In December the United Nations General Assembly asked the court to examine whether Israel was legally obliged to tear down the fence.

Since then 44 countries, including Switzerland, have filed confidential statements with the court.

Israeli boycott

On Thursday Israel said it would boycott the hearings, which are due to begin in The Hague on February 23, after its lawyers said the case fell outside the court’s jurisdiction.

The Israeli foreign ministry added that 33 countries had dismissed calls for the ICJ to hear the case.

They include the United States, Canada, Russia and the European Union, which says the issue should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians call the barrier a new “Berlin Wall” and are hoping for a ruling to halt its construction.

Israel’s Supreme Court is considering whether to hear petitions by human rights groups that claim the route of the barrier is illegal because it causes hardship to thousands of Palestinians.

swissinfo

Key facts

The West Bank barrier is about 600 kilometres long.
Some parts of it are eight metres high.
It is a network of metal fences, razor wire and concrete wall.
Construction began in June 2002.

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