Geneva: a place for peace

Geneva - the humanitarian and peace capital of the world Keystone

A series of events are taking place in Geneva to remind the people of the city's unparalleled contribution to the search for world peace.

This content was published on October 31, 2001

"Geneva: a Place for Peace", has been timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross, receiving the first Nobel Peace Prize.

"The people of Geneva should be proud of being in such a unique city, but they aren't always aware of its importance," says Pierre Allan, head of the faculty of Economic and Social Sciences at Geneva University.

"Here, more than most other cities, the concept of peace and international cooperation has been developed - and is being developed today, tomorrow, and next year," the professor told swissinfo.

Tradition of tolerance

But why has this small city at the western end of Lake Geneva taken on the mantle of the humanitarian and peace capital of the world? "It has always been a small, independent state that never frightened the big powers," says Roger Durand, president of the association that has organised the events.

"It also has an international tradition. Since Calvin, when Geneva welcomed those persecuted for their religious beliefs, there has always been this tradition of tolerance and helping others," Durand explained.

But the defining moment was the creation of the Red Cross movement and the drawing up of the Geneva Conventions. For the first time in history, a large number of states agreed to moderate their behaviour in wartime.

Among the attractions that will run until November 9 is a major exhibition at the Balexert shopping centre, the second largest in Switzerland. Here, 80 panels describe the major events, personalities and organisations that have helped to shape Geneva's role.

Peace Itinerary

The organisers have also created an Itinerary for Peace, which takes the visitor along three separate routes to 43 historically resonant places in the city.

Some -- like the United Nations building, and the ICRC headquarters - are world famous. But other are less so: Dunant's birthplace, the original homes of the High Commission for Refugees and the League of Nations, and the headquarters of the new Swiss-backed Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

Dunant may be the best known Geneva figure, but others have played crucial roles in building peace: The historian, William Rappard, who did more than anyone to bring the League of Nations to the city; Elie Ducommun, head of the International Peace Bureau, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize a year after Dunant; another Nobel laureate, the German historian Ludwig Quidde, who sought refuge from the Nazis in Geneva.

"In the 19th and 20th centuries Geneva was fortunate to be home to a series of remarkable people who were citizens of the world but who had strong attachments to the city," Prof. Allan says.

Professor Allan is organising another of the event: a two-day round-table discussion entitled "What is a just peace?" Among those taking part are the Palestinian intellectual, Edward Saïd, the former Israeli peace negotiator, Yossi Beilin, and American academic, Stanley Hoffmann.

This celebration of Geneva's historical role has been planned for more than two years, but given the conflict in Afghanistan, it has taken on a new relevance. It is a reminder that Geneva may be at the forefront of trying to find a solution to the crisis.

International vocation

"People aren't sufficiently aware of this dimension of Geneva," Allan says. "Don't forget, a large majority of Geneva citizens voted against Switzerland joining the United Nations, which is ironic in the second seat of the UN."

Roger Durand agrees that there is a poor understanding among the ordinary citizens of Geneva's peace heritage and its current role.

"We are the inheritors of this international vocation. We want to demonstrate the responsibility we have with regard to our children and our future," he says. "It's by spreading this message that we will continue to have people here in Geneva who get involved for the benefit of the whole world.

by Roy Probert

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