Middle East: parties to the conflict must urgently heed international calls

Bern, 30.07.2014 - To protect the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, and to help the large numbers of victims in Gaza, the parties to the conflict must urgently implement an effective ceasefire and commit unconditionally to fulfilling their obligations under international law. The FDFA has once again stated its support for international efforts and reiterates its call and readiness to improve the plight of civilians and restore chances for a political settlement to the conflict. In its capacity as depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland began consultations with the states parties to the conventions following an official Palestinian request to hold a conference by the end of the year.

Faced with increasing numbers of civilian casualties and acts and declarations ignoring international appeals, Switzerland reiterates the calls and proposals it made recently before the Human Rights Council as well as bilaterally with all actors involved in the conflict. Measures must be taken urgently to avoid a worsening or spreading of the conflict and to mitigate its impact on the civilian population.

Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter responded on 25 July to the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling on the states parties to the Geneva Conventions to meet in conference by the end of the year. Switzerland transmitted this request to the states parties and is currently carrying out informal consultations on the principle of holding such a conference. For such a conference to take place, it would necessitate a broad consensus among the states parties not only on its actual taking place but on what terms and with what expected results.

In addition to its role as depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland also works in a separate and direct way through its humanitarian aid activities, development cooperation work and actions to improve respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, with the FDFA supporting international efforts for a just and lasting peace. Switzerland reiterates its readiness to alleviate the suffering of the victims and to help find a way out of the conflict.

The most pressing matter at hand is a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire, allowing civilians to live without fear and victims to access aid from humanitarian agencies. As the norms of international humanitarian law only specify minimum standards – already taking into account military and security imperatives – they must be respected unconditionally. The number of civilian casualties, including children who have been killed or injured, would have been much lower today if the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality had been fully implemented during the hostilities. Switzerland reiterates in the strongest terms its condemnation of all acts that violate international law regardless of the perpetrator.

Faced with the violations of international humanitarian law committed in and from Gaza, and owing to controversies as to who is responsible, the FDFA considers it necessary to establish the facts in a full and impartial manner. To this end, it has supported and welcomes the creation of an independent commission of inquiry by the Human Rights Council. This commission must be able to investigate all violations with the support of all the actors involved.

Switzerland remains convinced that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved by military means. A lasting solution to the conflict can only be reached through negotiations aimed at allowing the establishment of a viable, contiguous and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, existing alongside an internationally recognised state of Israel within secure borders.

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs