Swiss divided over benefits of world poverty summit

UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, sets out "ambitious" goals for the new millennium Keystone

The United Nations world summit, designed to ease poverty and promote peace, is underway in New York. Among the leaders addressing the three-day meeting is the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi.

This content was published on September 6, 2000 minutes

More than 150 world leaders are in attendance, making it the largest gathering of its kind.

Ogi's speech, scheduled for Thursday, will mark the first time a Swiss president has addressed the UN General Assembly. He is also expected to sign the UN charter on children's rights.

Much of the debate at the summit is being focused on the Millennium report of the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan. His strategy is to work more closely with private business to reduce poverty and conflict and protect the environment.

Jürg Burri of the Swiss foreign ministry told swissinfo: "Switzerland broadly supports the goals mentioned in Kofi Annan's Millennium report. Those goals are ambitious in the field of development and that's why they're being hotly debated at this summit."

Burri said Annan's report, which also focuses on human rights, development and humanitarian aid "corresponds to the foreign policy goals of Switzerland", and that the government had already agreed to increase spending on development aid to 0.4 per cent of its per capita income.

He said Switzerland supported Annan's goal of working more closely with the private sector, adding that the Swiss government and business had a long history of close cooperation.

But Annan's "global compact" between the UN and multinationals has not been warmly received by everyone. Many non-governmental organisations, in particular, are distinctly uneasy about talk of closer cooperation.

Peter Niggli of the Swiss Coalition of Development Aid Organisations told swissinfo: "Multinationals would like to avoid paying taxes while at the same time saying they would like to contribute financially."

He added that multinationals wanted to follow their own agenda.

Annan has also said he wants NGOs to play a greater role in the decision-making process. However, NGOs were not invited to take part in the Millennium summit.

Niggli said the UN was also being hindered by some governments in developing countries - the intended recipients of aid programmes. He added that several had seemed less willing in the past two years to cooperate with NGOs.

by Dale Bechtel

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