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Long road to membership

Geneva’s Palais Wilson was home to the League of Nations

(Keystone Archive)

Despite not being a member of the United Nations, Switzerland has always been closely linked to the world body.

The linchpin was the choice of Geneva as the seat of the League of Nations and later as the European headquarters of the UN.


On April 28 the Paris Conference agreed to the Covenant of the League of Nations. Geneva became seat of the first organization for peace and international safety. The new League of Nations convened its first general meeting on November 15 in Geneva.


On May 16, the Swiss voted by a majority of 56 per cent to join the League of Nations.


In October, the Council of the League of Nations passed the "Protocol of Geneva", which proposed that states would present themselves to a court of arbitration in the case of conflict, instead of resorting to fighting. The move failed.

In the same month an international conference took place in Locarno, leading to the signing of several agreements, including the Rhine Pact, in which the boundaries between France and Germany, as well as those between Germany and Belgium were confirmed.


On September7, the foundation stone was placed for the League of Nations' Palace (Palais de Nations) in Geneva. The League of Nations was, at this time, still housed in the Palais Wilson - in 1936 it moved to the Palais de Nations. The last session of the League took place in December 1939. The Second World War had already started.


Representatives of 50 states signed the Charter of the United Nations on June 26 in San Francisco. Switzerland was not invited to the founding conference of the UN.


The League of Nations was officially dissolved on April 18. The Palais de Nations was later declared the European seat of the United Nations.


In July, for the first time since 1945, the "four great powers" - the victors of the Second World War - assembled in Geneva under the auspices of the UN. Eisenhower, Eden, Faure, and Boulganine spoke about disarmament, European security, reuniting Germany, and improvements in the relationship between East and West.


The Disarmament Commission in Geneva became the only multilateral institution for negotiations in the field of disarmament. Other negotiating institutions followed, also having their seat in Geneva. Since 1996, Switzerland has participated in the deliberations of the Disarmament Commission.


On March 16 with a very large majority - 75 per cent - Swiss voters rejected membership of the UN, in the face of government support for joining.


On December 13, a special session of the General Assembly met in Geneva to grant an audience to the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. The reason was because Arafat was prohibited from entering the US. In his speech he said he recognised "Israel's right to exist in peace and safety".


On May 17, the Swiss voted by a majority of 56 per cent to agree to the admission of Switzerland to the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.)


On June 12, Swiss voters rejected a proposal to allow their troops to join UN peacekeeping missions by a majority of 57 per cent.


On July 5, Geneva celebrated the 50th anniversary of the UN. The Swiss were present and represented by that year's president, Kaspar Villiger.

On October 24, Swiss Secretary of State, Jakob Kellenberger, represented Switzerland at the Summit Conference of the heads of governments for the 50th Anniversary of the UN Charter in New York.


On September 8, a multi-party committee launched a national initiative for the admission of Switzerland to the UN. The petition was finally submitted on March 6 2000 to the Federal Chancellery with 124,772 signatures.


In June, under the title "Geneva 2000" the UN General Assembly again met in the Palais de Nations for a special session five years after the Social Summit of Copenhagen. In conjunction, Switzerland organised a large public forum dedicated to all aspects of civil society.

On September 7, within the framework of the UN Millennium Summit, Adolf Ogi became the first Swiss president to address the General Assembly in New York.
On December 4, the Swiss government told parliament it supported UN membership.


On October 5, both chambers of parliament voted in favor of the Swiss government's proposal to join the UN.

On October 24, the government set March 3, 2002, as the date for a referendum on membership. It also published the text of the request for admission along with a declaration of the neutrality.


On March 3, the Swiss agreed, by a slim majority, to join the UN.

On June 21, the Swiss president, Kaspar Villiger signed in Bern the official request for admission to the UN.

On July 18: Switzerland officially requested admission to the United Nations and delivered a letter to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But it stressed that neutrality would be preserved: "Switzerland remains neutral, also as a member of the organisation of the United Nations".

On July 21, the UN Security Council recommended the admission of Switzerland to the General Assembly as a full member.


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