Swiss urge nations to respect Geneva Conventions

Washington has refused to grant prisoner-of-war status to detainees at Guantanamo Bay Keystone

The House of Representatives has called on countries to apply the Geneva Conventions in the fight against terrorism.

This content was published on March 6, 2002 - 16:13

But it stopped short of singling out the United States for its treatment of Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay.

The declaration, which was unanimously approved on Wednesday, was in response to a proposal by a Social Democrat parliamentarian, Remo Gysin.

Gysin told swissinfo he was disappointed the declaration falls short of targeting the US.

"A general declaration like this does not have a receiver," he said. "The promotion of human rights is a tenet of Switzerland's foreign policy. We have to insist on the respect of these rights even if it is the US."

Standing up to the US

Gysin vowed to press for further efforts, together with other countries. "We are a small country and the US is a superpower, but it is important to stand up for these values."

Washington has refused to grant prisoner of war status to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It says they do not represent a legitimate state and therefore are not entitled to the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of POWs in wartime.

The declaration adopted by the House underlines the importance of human rights: "Terrorism is a serious threat to universal human rights. It is imperative that the fight against terrorism is based on universal standards and does not violate humanitarian principles set under international law."

Protecting human rights

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, welcomed the statement, saying that as the depository state of the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland had a particular interest in protecting human rights.

A speaker for a key parliamentary committee, Kathy Ricklin, said it made no sense to point the finger at the US because to be consistent, other countries would also have to be named individually.

She pledged to launch a new appeal on June 8 for the protection of victims of armed conflicts to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the implementation of additional protocols of the Geneva conventions.

The Swiss government has on several occasions called on the US authorities to clarify the legal status of the detainees from Afghanistan. Washington has classified them as "illegal combatants", a category not recognised by the Geneva Conventions.

by Urs Geiser

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