UN reforms in 2018 are top priority, says Swiss diplomat

Antonio Gutérres says he wants to reshape the UN’s unwieldy bureaucracy and structure Keystone

Urgent reforms to the United Nations system, global migration, sustainable development and peace-building are top priorities for Switzerland this year, according to the Swiss ambassador to the UN in New York. 

Rita Emch in New York, swissinfo.ch

"The reform agenda of UN Secretary General [Antonio] Guterres is one of the priorities that will keep our mission busy throughout the year and across all issues," ambassador Jürg Lauber told reporters in New York on Wednesday. 

In recent months, Guterres has presented reports on how he intends to realign the UN's development system, reform the peace and security of the UN, and strengthen and streamline management. He has also committed to improving gender equality within the organisation. Initial concrete decisions are likely to be made during the year. 

Swiss ambassador to the UN in New York, Jürg Lauber Keystone

Another key issue for the Swiss mission in New York is the Global Compact for Migration. This voluntary agreement between countries emerged following a New York declaration in 2016, in which the 193 UN member states pledged to uphold the human rights of refugees and migrants and "for the first time in the history of the UN" seek a comprehensive strategy to deal with migration, Lauber stressed. 

After a year of preliminary work led by Lauber and his Mexican counterpart, who are co-facilitating the process, the UN General Assembly will get a first draft of a report at the beginning of February, after which actual negotiations will begin. 

"We hope for a conclusion before the summer break so that the pact can be adopted in Marrakech in December," said Lauber. 

Peace and Security

With respect to peace and security, the secretary general wants to avoid current fragmentation and to improve structures to develop better conflict resolution and peacekeeping operations. He also wants to work on the fundamental causes of conflicts and post-conflict situations, placing greater emphasis on socio-economic aspects. In April, a high-level General Assembly meeting on “Sustaining Peace” will address these issues. 

In 2018, security priorities will continue to focus on the Korean peninsula, the Middle East and specific African countries, where more than half of UN peacekeeping operations are located. Lauber recalled that Switzerland had offered its good offices to both Korean states but so far there has been no reply. 

Another key issue for Switzerland is the upcoming elections to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, when nine of the 18 committee members will be elected. Swiss lawyer and human rights expert Markus Schefer, professor at the University of Basel, is a candidate. The UN committee monitors compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Switzerland ratified the treaty in 2014. 

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council will remain an important focus for Switzerland, Lauber said. After the United States threatened to review its participation and called for reforms and the elimination of ‘chronic anti-Israel’ bias, Swiss officials believe the council will be the focus of reforms. In 2021, the UN General Assembly is set to review the status and working of the Human Rights Council. 

To implement the UN’s ambitious Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and its 17 goals, the UN must also change how it carries out development work as there are still too many duplications, which hinder efficiency and costs a huge amount of money. Guterres presented his ideas for a system-wide restructuring last summer in a report. 

Agreement on which specific UN agencies do what sustainable development work is also extremely important for Switzerland. It has a certain degree of influence as it is currently one of the top ten donors for twelve of the biggest UN agencies, which include UN Women, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN Development Programme, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP). 

Agenda 2030 presents enormous challenges, not least when it comes to financing and innovative solutions are needed, said Lauber. In April, a UN meeting will address this issue of financing for development, where much activity is underway, especially in the private sector. 

The UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) will also meet in July to review the implementation of Agenda 2030. A total of 48 countries, including Switzerland, will report on how they are managing implementation.  In 2016, Switzerland adopted a national strategy for sustainable development (2016-2019).  

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