The FDFA appeals to all the conflicting parties in Sri Lanka to end the hostilities immediately and to respect international humanitarian law

Bern, Press release, 21.04.2009

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. The disregard for humanitarian standards shown by combatants in the north of the country has resulted in many victims and seriously endangered the lives of tens of thousands of civilians caught in the cross-fire. The FDFA again urgently calls on all the conflicting parties to respect international humanitarian law and to end the hostilities.

Appeal of the Swiss authorities to all parties 

Deep concern about the humanitarian situation

1. As a State Party to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, Switzerland is committed to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

2. Switzerland is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. It deplores the already high number of civilian victims due to the lack of respect for international humanitarian law, especially the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force. It expresses serious concern about the fate of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons trapped in the fighting in northern Sri Lanka, and reminds the conflicting parties that in the conduct of military operations all feasible precautions must be taken to avoid injury and loss of life among the civilian population as well as damage to civilian property.

International legal framework applicable to non-international armed conflicts

3. International humanitarian law is applicable in non-international armed conflict. For this reason, all parties to the conflict must respect its rules under all circumstances. This includes the rules regarding the protection of civilian populations and those regarding the conduct of hostilities. As international humanitarian law takes into account legitimate needs such as the safety of civilians and military necessity, all its rules must be respected without exceptions.

4. International human rights norms remain applicable during armed conflict.

Appeal to respect international rules

5. Switzerland calls upon all parties to respect and to ensure respect for international humanitarian law in all circumstances and to take the necessary measures to prevent and stop violations of international humanitarian law.

6. In particular, the civilian population and civilian property must be respected and protected. All parties are under the obligation to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality and to take precautionary measures. Moreover, international humanitarian law prohibits the indiscriminate use of force and terrorist acts at all times and without exception. Acts of violence against civilians such as direct attacks or enforced disappearances are prohibited. Acts amounting to hostage-taking and using the civilian population to shield military objectives from attacks or to conceal military operations are also prohibited.

7. Persons not taking a direct part in hostilities shall be treated humanely without any discrimination.

8. Switzerland calls upon all parties to the conflict to grant an unimpeded and rapid humanitarian access to people in need. Moreover, the parties are under an obligation to spare and to protect at all times both the fixed and mobile installations of medical services. Medical facilities and humanitarian relief operations in the field, including the free passage of ambulances and medical personnel, must be respected in all circumstances.

9. Switzerland calls upon all parties to the conflict to facilitate the activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations agencies and of other humanitarian organisations active in Sri Lanka, in particular in the Vanni region. Switzerland reminds the parties to the conflict of their obligations to facilitate the relief operations and to grant a rapid and unimpeded access to humanitarian actors and to guarantee their safety.

10. Switzerland appeals to the Sri Lankan authorities to assume their responsibilities according to international humanitarian and human rights law and to conduct inquiries on alleged violations as well as to bring to justice persons suspected of having committed violations of international law.

Appeal to put an end to the conflict and to build peace

11. Switzerland calls upon all parties to put an immediate end to the hostilities.

12. Switzerland stresses that respect for international law is essential to improve the humanitarian situation in the field and to achieve just and lasting peace and reconciliation.

13. Switzerland appeals to the relevant authorities to improve as soon as possible the situation in the previously closed detention camps in accordance with internationally recognised humanitarian norms and in collaboration with international institutions.

14. Switzerland calls on the authorities to undertake and announce concrete plans and steps for the return of internally displaced persons, including – as an urgent priority – the humanitarian demining of conflict zones.  

15. Switzerland invites all parties concerned to refrain from incitement to hatred and to work towards reconciliation through unilateral or by mutually agreed measures. Switzerland extends its invitation to all parties, directly involved in the conflict or not, to cooperate in an open and inclusive way, together with international institutions to bring the conflict to an end by means of negotiation and to settle their disputes in the framework of a political solution.

16. Switzerland reiterates its continued willingness to offer its good offices in the areas of humanitarian aid, humanitarian protection, and political dialogue with a view to encouraging reconciliation and developing institutional solutions for the protection of minorities and decentralisation.

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs