Switzerland calls for swift return of Balkans refugees

Wrapping up two days of talks on human rights in the Balkans, Switzerland Tuesday called on the countries in the region to guarantee the safe and swift return of thousands of people displaced by the recent armed conflicts.

This content was published on October 19, 1999 - 17:38

Wrapping up two days of talks on human rights in the Balkans, Switzerland Tuesday called on the countries in the region to guarantee the safe and swift return of thousands of people displaced by the recent armed conflicts.

“The countries in south-eastern Europe must do more to make sure that the refugees can return safely and with dignity to their former home regions,” said Heidi Tagliavini (right), the head of the Swiss delegation at the Balkans Stability Pact conference in Geneva.

The process was launched by the European Union in July in Sarajevo.

About 60 delegations attended the Geneva talks on how to promote pro-democracy reforms and human rights. The discussions were hosted by Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss and Max van der Stoel (left), Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“We must act as quickly as possible,” van der Stoel said after delegates agreed to set up four new working groups which are to draw up an action plan in four areas:

1) Minorities: The status of gypsies, the Sinti and Roma groups, is to be discussed in greater detail. A Council of Europe delegation will travel to the region to prepare for a special conference on ethnic minorities in the Balkans. The meeting is to take place in Slovenia in March.

2) A “good governance” group is to discuss the formation of democratic civil institutions, the rule of law and justice.

3) The role of the media and press freedoms will have to be defined, particularly in light of the fact that the media have, and still play, a key role in fomenting ethnic unrest – or in preventing it.

4) A fourth group is to study which kind of projects can be launched to improve the standing of women in the post-war societies in the Balkans.

The conference in Geneva also called on international organisations to better coordinate their aid efforts. Switzerland is to contribute its share by continuing its support and close cooperation with the Geneva-based United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The general thrust of the stability pact talks – which also include round-table discussions on economic development and security issues – is to encourage cooperation between the various countries in the region.

The European Union and the U.N. have said repeatedly that real peace can come to the Balkans only if all countries including those indirectly affected by the fighting are brought into the peace effort.

From staff and wire reports.






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