Bern wants more respect for humanitarian law
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey says that conflicting parties in a war situation have to be continually reminded of the rules of humanitarian law.
She also told Friday's annual conference on Swiss Humanitarian Aid in Bern that Switzerland was well prepared to offer emergency aid to victims of war and natural catastrophes.
Calmy-Rey, who is this year's Swiss president, said victims of natural disasters or conflict were increasingly dependent on international aid because of the amount of destruction.
"Switzerland is well equipped for urgent aid. Its humanitarian mandate is broad and gives it a margin of manoeuvre which other states do not have," she commented.
This gave it an international image of being a reliable and "honest" partner. As such, Switzerland also had demands, she told the conference, which was organised by the Swis Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
"Unfortunately we increasingly come across serious violations of the basic rules of humanitarian law.
Switzerland would continue to insist "directly, clearly and emphatically" that conflict parties should adhere to them.
She said Bern would also try to make sure that marginalised groups of the population were taken into account.
She cited the example of last year's Israel-Lebanon conflict, after which Switzerland had paid particular attention to the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
In related remarks, the head of the SDC, Walter Fust, said that emergency aid in times of natural catastrophes and conflict had to be made more professional.
He noted that the sheer number of players - governments, non-governmental organisations and United Nations organisations - that arrived on the scene complicated matters.
"All are not as professional as they should be...[the result is that the] aid often arrives in an improvised way."
Fust called for a better integration of the local population when needs were evaluated. "Victims should be treated like partners," he said.
He also recommended that humanitarian organisations be subject to a "process of certification".
"Access to money that is available has to be transparent."
Furst said that too often, money never arrived among the people, who also came across a "void" between the time of emergency aid and the phase of reconstruction.
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In 2006, the SDC had an annual budget of about SFr1.3 billion.
The organisation, which is part of the Swiss foreign ministry, has carried out an estimated 1,000 projects in about 50 countries.
In the same year, the SDC employed about 1,700 people in Switzerland and abroad.
In 2005, Switzerland spent SFr2.2 billion ($1.82 billion) or 0.44% of GNP on cooperation and the fight against poverty in developing and emerging countries.
Development aid is basically the task of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
The SDC and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs are jointly mandated to promote cooperation programmes for eastern countries and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, which is part of the SDC, gives aid to victims of natural catastrophes and armed conflicts.
The government on Friday adopted the revised Preferential Tariffs Ordinance. Developing countries will continue to benefit from reductions on existing duties for goods imports.
In addition, the poorest countries will be able to import their goods into Switzerland free of customs duties and quotas.
The revised ordinance enters into force on April 1.
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