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Middle East human rights plan is still on track

Joseph Deiss stressed that Switzerland has a role to play in bringing peace to the Middle East

Switzerland's foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, says he remains upbeat about Swiss plans for a human rights monitoring force in the Middle East.

But he admits there has not been much progress on the proposals put forward earlier this year.

“Unfortunately there has not been very much achieved so far,” he told swissinfo. “But there has been great interest in the plans in the region and even more among the international community.”

In June, the head of the Swiss foreign ministry’s political affairs division, Blaise Godet, unveiled plans for a human rights watchdog in the Occupied Territories, made up of Israeli, Palestinian and international monitors.

Deiss denied that the lack of progress in setting up a watchdog signalled a failure in Switzerland’s foreign policy.

“I’m convinced that the values we are fighting for are ones recognised internationally,” he said.

“Important causes always take a long time and we have to be even more active and more convincing to get results.”

Humanitarian role

Deiss stressed that Switzerland’s position as the depository of the Geneva Conventions on human rights gave it a unique role in the peace process.

“By creating more confidence in the respect of humanitarian principles we can create a climate in the region that will be favourable to peace talks and peace solutions,” he said.

His comments came after a conference in Bern on Thursday to discuss Switzerland’s role in the Middle East, organised by the independent research institute, Swisspeace.

Development aid

Deiss told delegates that Switzerland also had an important contribution to make in development aid to the Middle East.

“We directly finance grass roots projects among the population to the tune of around SFr20 million,” he said. “And we support the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

He pointed out that Switzerland had taken an active role in the Temporary International Presence in the city of Hebron by providing four civilian experts.

Deiss admitted that Switzerland could not find solutions to the conflict in the Middle East by itself, but he stressed it had a role to play in international efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement.

“Switzerland can show by the way it approaches the issues that tolerance and mutual recognition can lead to a compromise,” he said.

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Switzerland unveiled plans for a human rights watchdog in the Occupied Territories in June.
The current Geneva Conventions are 53 years old.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR