Foreign ministry abandons Iraq victims' list

Micheline Calmy-Rey is under fire from all sides Keystone

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has abandoned plans to publish on the Internet a list of civilian casualties of the war in Iraq.

This content was published on April 1, 2003 minutes

On Tuesday the ministry said it was not going ahead with the list because of difficulties in finding reliable sources of information.

The about-turn came after human rights groups and the Swiss political establishment criticised the plan.

"My methods provoked criticism, and I must admit that criticism was justified," Calmy-Rey told Swiss radio.

Amnesty International said the list could have been used for propaganda, while Calmy-Rey's political opponents accused her of using the war as a political platform in an election year.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said from the start it did not see how such a list could be obtained.

According to ICRC chief spokeswoman, Antonella Notari, it would have been very difficult to establish an accurate picture of the number of the victims in Iraq.

"We certainly don't have an overview of the situation of casualties in all of Iraq," she told swissinfo.

Internet platform

The foreign ministry said it had commissioned an Internet platform to gather reliable information on the situation in Iraq in order to find out whether humanitarian law is being observed.

The portal "" is run by Integrated Research and Information System, a Geneva-based organisation, and the Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) programme of Harvard University.


Press reports on Tuesday said the foreign ministry had been desperately trying to find a way of extricating itself from the situation.

The Tages-Anzeiger described the plan for the list as Calmy-Rey's latest "faux pas", and suggested that she had not even consulted experts in her department about the wisdom of such a move.

Calmy-Rey told the weekend press that the list purpose was intended to "give an overview" of the number of civilian casualties and to drive home the reality of conflict.

It was not expected to include military casualties from either side of the conflict.

"There are already now many civilian victims," Calmy-Rey told the SonntagsBlick newspaper. "Only when we see a full list will it become clear to us how awful [the war] is."

Within Switzerland, the plan drew criticism from across the political establishment.

The centre-right Radical Party criticised Calmy-Rey - a Social Democrat - for using the list as a means of garnering popular support ahead of general elections in Switzerland later this year.

"It appears strange to us that all those victims in Iraq are being used, or indeed abused, for a political campaign... in fact it's nothing else," spokesman, Christian Weber, told swisssinfo.


His words were echoed by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, which slammed Calmy-Rey's idea as "thoughtless".

"I think for Micheline Calmy-Rey it is important because we have elections in Switzerland this year and she wants to do all the best for her party," spokesman Yves Bichsel told swissinfo.

"We don't see the point of this list... The information the Swiss government gets comes from the Iraqi government and other organisations involved there."

Geneva Conventions

In her newspaper interview, Calmy-Rey implied it was Switzerland's duty to draw attention to the innocent victims of the war since it is the depository state of the Geneva Conventions.

The conventions, which were established in 1949, outline rules of conduct during war, which include the protection of civilians and soldiers.

But Bern University political analyst, Andreas Ladner, said it was not Switzerland's place to publish such a list, and that in any case such a decision was a matter for the entire cabinet.

Albert Stahel, a political scientist at the University of Zurich, took a more positive view. He told swissinfo that, in his view, Switzerland had an obligation to remind the world of the importance of the Geneva conventions, since it is both the cradle and custodian of international humanitarian law.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva and Billi Bierling

In brief

The Swiss foreign ministry has abandoned plans to publish a list of civilian victims of the US-led war in Iraq.

The idea was raised in a bid to drive home the harsh reality of the conflict.

It met strong opposition from some political parties, which questioned its usefulness and the political motives behind it.

Iraqi officials say over 425 civilians have been killed so far in the conflict, but have given no figures on military casualties.

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