On 7 November, the Swiss government, as depository of the Geneva Conventions called for a "Conference of High Contracting Parties" to be convened in Geneva on 5 December. This conference will be based upon numerous UN General Assembly resolutions that affirmed, under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the clear and binding obligation of all 189 signatory states ("High Contracting Parties") to ensure Israel's compliance with the Convention in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.
The convening of this conference has been a subject of state controversy since 15 July 1999, when a first and similar conference adjourned after only 15 minutes without taking any steps to enforce the Convention. Both Israel and the United States have announced that they will boycott the upcoming 5 December conference.
Palestinian NGOs have expressed their shock that the outcome of the 5 December conference has already been determined in advance, in the form of a weak draft Declaration of the High Contracting Parties (text available at: www.pchrgaza.org). This Declaration lacks reference to concrete enforcement actions to be undertaken by the High Contracting Parties themselves to enforce Israel's compliance with the Convention. This lack of enforcement is completely unacceptable under Article 1 of the Convention as a legal matter, given Israel's openly-admitted policies of deliberate, mass-scale commission of "violations" and "grave breaches" of the Convention (equivalent to "war crimes," under international law) against the civilian Palestinian population throughout the 34-year-long occupation, and especially during the current intifada. (See the PCHR and LAW Position Paper on the 5 December conference, available at: www.pchrgaza.org.)
By avoiding concrete enforcement procedures required under Article 1, it appears that the international community is about to succumb to U.S. and Israeli pressure for a second time. This would be a blatant subversion of international humanitarian law for political interests, similar to the first abortive meeting of the High Contracting Parties in July 1999. The July meeting did nothing to further the cause of peace, but rather facilitated Israel's colonization policies and massive human rights violations, and thereby contributed to the start of a new round of violent crisis in September 2000.
In an effort to redirect the attention of the High Contracting Parties back to their binding Article 1 enforcement obligations, the Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW) decided to co-organize a "Civil Society & Human Rights Parallel Conference on the Fourth Geneva Convention" to be held in Geneva on 4-5 December. The parallel conference will bring together human rights activists, jurists, academics, and solidarity groups, in order to ensure that the voices of the victims are not drowned out by the legally questionable governmental Declaration.
The parallel conference will:
Call upon the signatory states ("High Contracting Parties") to use the 5 December conference as an opportunity to take immediate and practical steps to enforce international humanitarian law in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories;
Protest against the decision to exclude non-governmental organizations from the official conference;
Reiterate its condemnation of the United States and Israel for boycotting the conference.
The Parallel Conference is open to all who support the application of international humanitarian law in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. For further information on participating in the Parallel Conference, please contact the organizers: