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Swiss to take on senior legal role at UN

Nicolas Michel is to act as "legal conscience" of the UN Keystone

A law professor, Nicolas Michel, has assumed the highest position ever occupied by a Swiss at the United Nations.

Michel was appointed head of the UN legal services in New York on Tuesday.

He will serve as one of five senior assistants to the secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

Michel, a legal adviser with the Swiss foreign ministry, replaces the Swedish diplomat, Hans Corell, who retires from the post after ten years of service with the UN.

The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, had announced Michel’s nomination last week. His appointment was confirmed by the office of UN secretary-general on Tuesday.

The Swiss daily “Le Temps” described Michel’s future status as “Kofi Annan’s legal conscience”. In his position Michel will advise the secretary-general on matters of international law.


Vera Gowlland, professor at Geneva University, said Michel’s appointment was official recognition of Switzerland, which joined the UN in 2002.

“It means that the UN and its member countries recognise the special role of Switzerland in international law,” Gowlland told swissinfo.

“Michel’s task will be very delicate. He will, for instance, give his opinion on the legality of UN resolutions and can be consulted by all UN agencies on legal matters of importance,” she added.

Alain Bovard of the Swiss branch of Amnesty International also welcomes Michel’s appointment.

“He has always been open to our suggestions in the past,” Bovard told swissinfo.

Criminal Court

Michel made a name for himself on the international stage during negotiations, which lead to the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court in 2002.

The law professor at Fribourg University served in the Swiss foreign ministry as head of the office for international law between 1998 and 2003.

In his capacity as legal adviser to the foreign ministry, Michel also chaired an international group of experts considering the use of force as a means of self-defence for individual countries.

Ogi, Ziegler, del Ponte

Two other Swiss nationals currently hold senior positions within the UN. The former government minister, Adolf Ogi, was appointed special adviser on sport for development and peace in 2001.

In 2000 the UN Human Rights Commission named Jean Ziegler, a professor of sociology and renowned author, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Among the most prominent Swiss working for the UN is Carla Del Ponte, who became the chief prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in 1999.

Del Ponte was forced to give up her responsibility for Rwanda last year, but continues to head the Hague Tribunal.


Nicolas Michel will be among the top five legal advisers to Kofi Annan.

Former government minister Adolf Ogi is Annan’s adviser on sport.

Sociology professor and renowned author, Jean Ziegler, acts as Special Rapporteur on the right to Food for the UN Human Rights commission.

Carla Del Ponte, another Swiss, is the chief prosecutor at the War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Nicolas Michel (55) has been a law professor at Fribourg University since 1987.
We worked for the Swiss foreign ministry as head of the office for international law between 1998 and 2003.
He also played a key role in establishing a permanent International Criminal Court.
Michel was appointed head of the UN legal services in New York on May 18, 2004.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR