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Annan backs Geneva to host human rights body

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Switzerland in talks with President Samuel Schmid


United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is convinced the new UN Human Rights Council will be based in Geneva. He hopes it will be set up this year.

After meeting Swiss government members in Bern, Annan praised Switzerland's role at the UN and its interest in reform of the organization.

The Human Rights Council is designed to replace the much criticized UN Commission on Human Rights, which is based in Geneva.

"The Human Rights Council will certainly come to Geneva," Annan told journalists. "In New York we don't have the space for it.

"The Human Rights Commission already has its headquarters in Geneva and the member states are agreed that it should remain there," Annan said.

Swiss President Samuel Schmid said that in talks with Annan he and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey had stressed Switzerland's priorities "insisting in particular on the establishment of the Human Rights Council in Geneva".

The Commission – the UN's main mechanism for monitoring respect for human rights - has been accused of infighting and inability to deal with cases of abuse.

Switzerland has led calls for a new human rights body with broad competencies, which would be placed under the direct authority of the General Assembly.

Motor for reform

Annan said the Council should be up and running by March 2006 at the latest.

"We are resolved to create a Council which is efficient and which has an international mandate to bring all countries to justice for human rights violations."

In talks on Friday the Swiss ministers and the secretary-general discussed UN reform, the future of Kosovo and Iraq. Another topic was the number of Swiss troops involved in peacekeeping missions.

Schmid said the government had taken a decision to increase the number of Swiss soldiers involved in these foreign missions.

For his part, Annan praised Switzerland for its active role in the UN and its interest in reform of the Security Council. Switzerland and other European countries had become the motor for reform of the organization, he said.

Status of Kosovo

"Today I will inform the Security Council that I want to open discussions about the status of Kosovo," Annan announced, and acknowledged that the independence of the Serbian province was an option.

At the General Assembly in New York in May, Switzerland had issued a call for talks on granting independence to Kosovo, causing a political stir.

During a visit to the breakaway province, Calmy-Rey reiterated calls for a form of independence for Kosovo, which has been under UN and Nato administration since 1999. Her comments gave rise to a diplomatic row with Belgrade.

Annan said he would name a special envoy to Kosovo in the coming days. "I expect that talks with Pristina and Belgrade will begin very soon," he said.

"The question of independence has been posed; the question of autonomy has been posed. We will discuss all that with Belgrade, with Pristina."


In brief

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met a Swiss government delegation during an official visit to Bern.

The two sides discussed plans to site the new UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN reform and the future of Kosovo and Iraq.

The Human Rights Council is intended to replace the much criticised Human Rights Commission.

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