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Calmy-Rey calls for human rights council

Reforming the security council is central to the UN general assembly

(Keystone)

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has called for the creation of a new human-rights body in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

She also announced that Switzerland intends to present a draft resolution to the plenary assembly in New York on ways to reform the Security Council.

"The UN is of great importance for Swiss foreign policy," Calmy-Rey told swissinfo, adding that a lot rests on increasing the organisation's credibility.

Calmy-Rey said that in the three years that Switzerland has been a full member of the UN, the country has forged a good reputation, especially considering Switzerland's size.

"People take notice of us," she said.

Calmy-Rey confirmed that Switzerland would continue to take an active role in the creation of a human-rights council - a proposal which came from the Swiss authorities.

She welcomed the fact that mention of the creation of this council was made in the closing speech of the UN Millennium Summit last week.

She said the council should meet regularly in Geneva and should work in close cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The council would replace the existing Human Rights Commission, which has been widely criticised for failing to act against countries committing abuses.

"The nature and the working methods of the [new] Human Rights Council should be rapidly defined," she emphasised.

Transparency

Calmy-Rey also underlined the importance of reforming the Security Council.

"No one can deny that the composition of the Security Council should better reflect contemporary geopolitical realities," she said.

Switzerland intends to present to the UN plenary assembly a draft resolution on improving the working methods of the 15-member body.

Calmy-Rey said such a reform of the working methods of the Security Council should improve transparency and create ways and means for the council members to hear other points of view.

She said the reforms should also strengthen the possibilities of participation by states that are not members of the Security Council and ensure greater accountability to all UN member states.

She added that the Security Council should also refrain, as far as possible, from exercising legislative functions.

"The task of codifying and developing international law should remain the primary responsibility of the General Assembly, which includes all member states," she said.

In May, Switzerland presented a 17-point plan containing specific recommendations, which was well received by a large number of countries.

France, Sweden, Italy, Turkey, Spain and Canada support Switzerland's suggestion. Calmy-Rey had bilateral talks with those countries' respective foreign ministers in New York.

Internal management

Calmy-Rey said another important institutional reform decided at the summit was the creation of a peace building commission.

"Switzerland has brought its ideas and welcomes the creation of this body, which will address an essential aspect of United Nations action and fills a clear institutional gap," she said.

Calmy-Rey believes it is also important, when drafting the commission's mandate, to ensure an equitable gender representation and that the commission has the competence to give advice when required.

She added that a further Swiss concern was the improvement that has to be made to the internal management of the UN. The recent oil-for-food debacle spoke volumes, she said.

Calmy-Rey underlined the importance of combating cases of abuse and sexual exploitation committed in the context of UN peace operations.

"Switzerland advocates zero tolerance on this question," she said, explaining that cases of abuse damage the credibility of the organisation and hinder the accomplishment of its missions on the ground.

swissinfo, Rita Emch in New York

Key facts

The Swiss electorate approved UN membership in a nationwide ballot in March 2002.
Switzerland officially joined the world body in September 2002.
Previously, Switzerland held observer status and was a member of various UN agencies.

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In brief

Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand aim to mediate in a dispute over reforms of the UN security council.

The proposals include working methods of the council, a veto right and a review of membership rules.

The mediators want to introduce a clause which will require the composition of the commission to be revised every ten years.

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