The extraordinary 10th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly has recommended an investigation into alleged Israeli violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Last week in Geneva, experts from the states that have signed the Convention met to discuss issues affecting the implementation of the all-important Convention.
Analysis: Since their creation in 1949, the Geneva Conventions have afforded protection in times of war to the wounded and sick of armed forces in the field and at sea, to prisoners of war, and to civilians. 188 nations have signed the Conventions. Their sanctity has never been questioned.
The Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilians during war has never been used to investigate systematically a country’s acts. Not the brutal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, not China’s continued occupation of Tibet, not Indonesia’s stranglehold over East Timor, to name just a few.
Another rarely invoked mechanism are Emergency Special Sessions of the UN General Assembly. Over the past 15 years, they have been called only twice – both times to debate Israel and the territories occupied following the war of 1967. Since 1982, consider situations in which an Emergency Special Session was not called: Serbian aggression in the Balkans, genocide in Rwanda, North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the nuclearized arms race on the Indian Sub-Continent, and many others. The selectivity with which the General Assembly convenes Emergency Special Sessions is disturbing. To victims of such aggression, it is insulting and unjust. For the taxpayers of the world who fund the UN, it is a shameful waste of resources.
Right now, having had the Geneva Convention Meeting of Experts that follows up on repeated Emergency Special Session requests, it is appropriate to ask whether there is an attempt to use the UN – and more importantly, the Geneva Conventions – for political purposes. If so, this dangerous game threatens to undermine the UN’s own Charter, and the primacy of the Geneva Conventions.
In debating the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention, both the General Assembly and the signatories to the Convention have an obligation to follow the highest standards of procedural fairness and judicial open-mindedness. The questions to be asked are difficult, the burdens for appropriate behavior heavy. To date, the 10th Emergency Special Session has done nothing to advance the cause of peace. We call upon the signatories to ensure that the Geneva Conventions are protected against short-sighted, political gamesmanship as well.