Palestinian rights conference opens without Israel

Israel is boycotting the one-day talks

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A conference on respect for international human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories opened Wednesday in Geneva but was shunned by Israel and the United States.

Israel is boycotting the one-day talks and has accused host Switzerland of contributing to the politicization of the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war.

Swiss President Didier Burkhalter said he expects a “very large participation” at the meeting, adding that “the international community must speak on the issue”.

The conference is being held in response to a recommendation from the UN General Assembly at the request of Palestinian authorities, and all 196 signatories of the Geneva Conventions have been invited.

But it comes amid mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, and the same day as the Palestinians intend to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council in New York on ending the Israeli occupation.

Heading into the closed-door talks held in a UN building in Geneva, the Palestinian envoy to the UN Human Rights Council said he wanted to send a “strong message for respect of humanitarian rights”.

“I hope this will be helpful to remind the Israelis of their obligations to respect the Geneva Conventions,” Ibrahim Khraishi told reporters.

The conference is expected to be attended by permanent representatives to the UN in Geneva, although Swiss officials confirmed that US diplomats would not attend.

The meeting is devoted to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which defines humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone, and Burkhalter said the objective was “to advance the cause of international humanitarian law”.

But the Israeli foreign ministry has condemned the move, warning in a statement last week that it threatened Switzerland’s role as neutral arbiter.

“The decision of the Swiss government to hold a conference of signatories raises serious doubts concerning its commitment to these principles as Switzerland lends a hand to the politicisation of the Geneva Conventions in particular and the laws of war in general,” it said.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution in 2009 asking Switzerland to lead consultations on holding a conference. The consultations were suspended in 2011 before being re-launched in July.

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