Wednesday, March 14, 2007

US anti-terrorism policy irks Swiss

US anti-terrorism policy irks Swiss centre-left
swissinfo, Urs Geiser and Andrea Tognina March 14

A planned treaty with the United States aimed at combating terrorism has come in for criticism ahead of a debate in parliament this week.

Centre-left parties in Switzerland have serious reservations about the deal on police cooperation. They insist Washington should apply international humanitarian law and conventions against torture.

The accord, which is scheduled for debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, provides the legal basis for joint investigations and an exchange of information in the fight against terrorism and its financing.

The cooperation is restricted to inquiries and judicial proceedings pending in either Switzerland or the US and has to be carried out in line with a 1973 treaty on judicial assistance.

"We want cooperation to be based on the strict respect of the United Nations conventions against torture and the Geneva Conventions," said Carlo Sommaruga of the centre-left Social Democratic Party.

He adds that his party is not opposed to the fight against terrorism, but the current US administration has failed to convince him that it is willing to apply international regulations in line with human rights.

He highlights the controversial Guantánamo prison camp and extraordinary renditions, an extrajudicial procedure conducted by the US government to transfer people suspected of terrorism to third-party states.

"Switzerland as the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions has a moral obligation to ensure that the humanitarian laws are respected," Sommaruga said.

CIA kidnappings

Around 100 people have been kidnapped by the CIA on European territory with the tacit consent of the governments, according to a 2006 Council of Europe investigation led by Swiss senator Dick Marty.

The Swiss government has condemned the practice of detaining prisoners at Guantánamo without putting them on trial. But the Swiss justice authorities have tried to obtain information on suspected Islamic militants from detainees at the US naval base on Cuba.

Daniel Vischer of the Green Party says there is a serious risk that the proposed treaty with the US undermines existing legal standards.

"The fight against terrorism must not be a pretext for creating special rules, such as allowing foreign police forces to work in Switzerland."

Vischer believes the proposed treaty will easily pass in parliament, because the three main parties will vote in favour. But he welcomes the possibility to discuss cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Operative Working Agreement

It is in Switzerland's interest to cooperate with all major powers to combat international terrorism, according to Luzi Stamm of the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

"We have to think long-term. Cooperation with the US has traditionally been excellent," he says.

The proposed accord, signed by the justice ministers of both countries last July, is to replace an Operative Working Agreement (OWA) in force since 2002.

The new treaty extends the scope of the OWA – which was destined to regulate cooperation for legal assistance – in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. Its precise contents were neither made public nor presented to parliament for approval.

Its impact however appears to have been very limited, since no arrests are known to have been made in Switzerland directly related to September 11.