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ISRAEL

Israel hits back at Swiss over rights conference

Israel on Friday condemned Switzerland's plan to host a conference on respect for international human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, charging it was a deviation from the country's traditional neutrality.

Israel hits back at Swiss over rights conference
Photo: The Local

Switzerland has announced a December 17th conference in Geneva, in response to a recommendation from the UN General Assembly at the request of Palestinian authorities.
   
But the Israeli foreign minister said it was "gravely" concerned by Switzerland's decision to host the meeting, which comes amid mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israelis.
   
The Palestinians are seeking a UN resolution by year-end that would set a timetable for Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories.
   
"Switzerland is the depositor of the Geneva Conventions . . . the role of the depositor obliges Switzerland to operate in a neutral and apolitical manner," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
   
The conference will be devoted to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which defines humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone.
   
"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 politicization of the Geneva Conventions in particular and the laws of war in general," the Israeli ministry said.
   
The General Assembly passed a resolution in 2009 asking Switzerland to lead consultations on holding such a conference.
   
Permanent representatives to the UN in Geneva are expected to attend the conference.
   
The foreign ministry said Israel "will not take part in the conference" and called on other countries to boycott the meeting.
   
Swiss President Didier Burkhalter has said he expected "very large participation" in the conference.
   
"Our objective is to advance the cause of international humanitarian law," Burkhalter said.
   
"Even if Israel and the United States boycott the meeting, the international community must speak on the issue," he said.

"There is no denigration of Israel planned."

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UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

US admits police killings thwart civil rights

The United States acknowledged in Geneva on Monday that more needed to be done to uphold its civil rights laws following a string of recent killings of unarmed black men by police.

US admits police killings thwart civil rights
Riot police contend with demonstration over death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore last month. Photo: AFP

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council, a US representative stressed the advances his country had made in establishing a range of civil rights laws over the past half century.
   
But referring to a long line of recent cases of alleged abuse of African Americans by police, James Cadogan, a senior counselor in the justice department's civil rights division, admitted that "we must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our civil rights laws live up to their promise."
   
"The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and Walter Scott in South Carolina have . . . challenged us to do better and to work harder for progress," he said.
   
The United States was undergoing a so-called Universal Periodic Review of its rights record — which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.
 
The US delegation, headed by US ambassador to the council Keith Harper and acting US legal advisor Mary McLeod, faced a range of questions from diplomats about law enforcement tactics, police brutality and the disproportionate impact on African Americans and other minorities.
   
The half-day review in Geneva came after the US justice department on Friday launched a federal civil rights investigation into whether police in Baltimore have systematically discriminated against residents, following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody last month.
   
Six police officers have been charged in connection with Gray's arrest and death.

One faces a second-degree murder charge.
   
Cadogan insisted Washington was intent on bringing abusive police officers to justice.
   
"When federal, state, local or tribal officials wilfully use excessive force that violates the US Constitution or federal law, we have authority to prosecute them," he said, pointing to criminal charges brought against more than 400 law enforcement officials over the past six years.
   
Also on the agenda during Monday's review was the continued use of the death penalty, and the US record on addressing its "war on terror" legacy, including Washington's failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and CIA torture revelations.
   
"As President (Barack) Obama has acknowledged, we crossed the line, we did not live up to our values, and we take responsibility for that," McLeod said of the past cases of CIA torture, detailed in an explosive Senate report last December.
   
"We have since taken steps to clarify that the legal prohibition on torture applies everywhere and in all circumstances, and to ensure that the United States never resorts to the use of those harsh interrogation techniques again," she said.

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