Geneva: Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter today said his country supported the use of an international commission based in Bern to probe a deadly US air strike on an Afghan hospital. Doctors Without Borders, which ran the hospital, has called for the Bern-based body to investigate the strike on a hospital in the northern city of Kunduz on October 3, which killed 22 people, including 12 of the medical charity’s staff.
Burkhalter told reporters that Switzerland thought using the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), an independent mechanism created under international law but which has never before been used, was “a good solution”. Switzerland, the caretaker of the Geneva Conventions under which the IHFFC was created, had as secretary to the commission sent letters to the United States and Afghanistan requesting their needed agreement to launch the probe, Burkhalter said.
MSF has condemned the attack as a war crime and insists an independent probe is needed not only to establish the facts of the attack, but also to reaffirm the international laws protecting humanitarian actors in all conflict zones. Speaking at a Geneva conference aimed to prepare next year’s World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, UN Deputy Secretary Jan Eliasson decried “a growing lack of respect for international humanitarian law.”
He warned the world was witnessing a “competition of brutality”, not only among terrorist groups but also increasingly governments, who in many cases were doing little to protect civilians in conflict zones. “This is something that we need to react to,” he told the some 900 delegates at the Geneva conference. Burkhalter also lamented a growing disregard for the global rules aimed at protecting civilians and aid workers in conflicts, pointing out that last year 155 humanitarian workers were killed in ongoing conflicts. He stressed the importance of an upcoming international conference hosted by the Red Cross in Geneva in December aimed at seeking ways and mechanisms to ensure compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
“In this world, there are constitutional courts, assemblies and mechanisms to ensure respect for just about all principles, except when it comes to international humanitarian law,” he told reporters. “Here you have the most universal of all conventions, and there is no way to ensure they are respected,” he said. “It is not something that will happen by itself. In fact, it is happening less and less,” he warned.