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UN tells Swiss to get tough on war criminals

The UN says Switzerland has work to do on child soldiers Keystone

The United Nations has told Switzerland to revise a controversial piece of legislation, which it says limits the country's ability to prosecute war criminals.

This content was published on January 28, 2006 - 11:15

The Geneva-based UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said on Friday that the Swiss also needed to do deal more sensitively with traumatised child refugees.

Switzerland has come under fire over an amendment to the Military Penal Code, which states that suspected war criminals must have a "close link" to the country in order to face prosecution.

The clause covers suspects owning a property or with family in the country, but not those who are just passing through.

Earlier this month the UN asked the Swiss government for an explanation – one that clearly failed to satisfy the 18-strong committee.

On Friday they told the Swiss to "review the recent amendment... with a view to restoring full jurisdiction over war crimes, such as conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15".

Human rights campaigners and legal experts welcomed the UN committee's intervention, saying the "close link" clause had no place in Swiss law.

"I have said all along that this clause is probably contrary to the Geneva Conventions," Helen Keller, professor of international law at Zurich University, told swissinfo. "Parliament should now review its decision and re-amend article 9 of the Military Penal Code."

Time to act

Philip Grant, president of the Geneva-based justice organisation Trial, said he was confident that the government and parliament would now act on the committee's recommendations.

"For a state which is the depositary of the Geneva Conventions, this situation is quite shameful," he said.

"If there is a sufficiently strong case and the suspect is in Switzerland, we should be able to act."

Trial says its position is supported by around 60 Swiss international law professors.

The UN committee also noted "with concern" that the authorities interviewing children applying for asylum in Switzerland receive no special training for dealing with those traumatised by war.

It also criticised the absence of data and the lack of specific integration programmes for former child soldiers.

On a more positive note, the committee praised government efforts to outlaw the recruitment of child soldiers and commended its continued financial support of international organisations working to address the issue of children in armed conflicts.

The Swiss foreign ministry said on Friday that it needed to study in detail the committee's recommendations before giving a response.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

In brief

The UN General Assembly adopted the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, aimed at improving protection of children in armed conflict, in May 2000.

Under the protocol, which the Swiss signed in 2000, nations are bound to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Where necessary they should adopt legal measures to prohibit and criminalise these practices.

The Swiss authorities stress that there are numerous provisions within the law to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers.

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