U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting in the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. on December 20, 2023.

(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

US Quietly Working to Prevent Conference on Geneva Convention Violations

Biden administration officials are reportedly aiming to convince Switzerland to reject calls for a conference focused on alleged violations by Israel and Hamas.

The Biden administration is reportedly working to prevent the Swiss government from holding a conference on alleged Geneva Convention violations by both the Israeli government and Hamas, a private pressure campaign that comes as the U.S. is obstructing U.N. Security Council efforts to address the spiraling humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

HuffPost's Akbar Shahid Ahmed reported Wednesday that Palestinian diplomats and a number of U.N. member nations—including some U.S. allies—are "preparing a call for Switzerland to launch such a conference focused on the fighting in Israel-Palestine that would cover Geneva Conventions violations by all parties."

Beatrice Fihn, director of the Geneva-based organization Lex International, said she has heard that more than 60 countries have signed a letter urging the Swiss government to convene a conference on the Geneva Conventions. Norway is among the signatories.

Fihn called the initiative an "important effort" to make clear that "there are laws of war that need to be upheld."

Officials at the U.S. State Department are hoping to convince Switzerland to reject the call, which is backed by prominent human rights organizations including Amnesty International.

"U.S. diplomats are finalizing a démarche―a diplomatic initiative―to their Swiss counterparts that Washington hopes will scuttle plans for a meeting to discuss violations of the Geneva Conventions in the current war between Israel and Hamas," Ahmed reported, citing internal State Department documents.

Both Israel and Hamas have been accused in recent weeks of violating the Geneva Conventions, a cornerstone of international humanitarian law that aims to protect noncombatants. The U.S., too, has been accused of flouting the Geneva Conventions by providing arms to the Israeli military, which has used them to massacre civilians.

Ahmed noted that "formal determinations that Israel has violated the conventions in its U.S.-backed offensive in Gaza against Hamas would represent a serious global condemnation of both countries―and corroborate the claims of human rights groups who have gathered evidence they call proof of such violations."

"Historically neutral Switzerland is the depository of the conventions, which means it determines when meetings of the parties involved are held to discuss compliance," he explained. "By early January, American diplomats plan to lobby their Swiss counterparts to reject the request from the Palestinians and watchdog organizations."

U.S. officials are preparing to make the case that the proposed conference would politicize the Geneva Conventions "by creating the impression they are being primarily cited to target Israel," Ahmed reported.

Human rights advocates expressed alarm over news of the U.S. pressure campaign, which comes as millions of Gazans are struggling to survive amid Israel's relentless bombing campaign, ground assault, and siege. Israeli forces have killed more than 20,000 people in Gaza and displaced more than 90% of the territory's population in just two and a half months, and many Gazans are at growing risk of starvation and disease.

"As signatory of the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. has legal obligations to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and prevent further violations," Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's human rights program, wrote on social media. "Biden administration is sparing no effort to defend Israel instead of upholding its own obligations and protecting civilians in Gaza."

Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, added that "the U.S. should spend less time trying to protect Israel from justified criticism over its violations of the Geneva Conventions and more time urging it to start complying with its obligations."

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