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Swiss need to work harder at peacekeeping

Richard Holbrooke says the Swiss could be doing more (UN) UN

Switzerland needs to become more proactive to restore its international peace-broking image, former United States ambassador Richard Holbrooke tells swissinfo.

This content was published on February 1, 2006 - 11:06

Holbrooke believes Switzerland has fallen behind the likes of Norway as global diplomats and should commit more troops to peacekeeping efforts.

The former US ambassador to the United Nations, who was the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the war in Bosnia, was speaking at the opening of the Human Rights Watch organisation's Zurich office.

Holbrooke praised Switzerland's historical record in promoting human rights, particularly by creating the Red Cross Society and drawing up the Geneva Conventions.

"Switzerland has always stood for certain values in the world and I admire them greatly," he told swissinfo. "The opening of the Human Rights branch in Zurich is a big step forward because Switzerland is an important centre of activity in this area."

But he believes that the Swiss have recently lost ground to Scandinavian countries that have become more active in promoting peace in the world.

And he feels that Switzerland has lacked a strong figurehead in the field of international diplomacy since the departure of Flavio Cotti as Swiss foreign minister in 1999.

Proactive Norwegians

"The Norwegians are far more proactive than the Swiss, and I've worked with both countries in the Balkans and Cyprus," he said.

"When I was working in those regions, Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti was chairman of OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and at that time Switzerland was very active.

"Foreign Minister Cotti was a very strong international figure, probably the most visible Switzerland had had in decades.

"But Switzerland doesn't produce many international negotiators and diplomats like Sweden, Denmark and Norway. I think that's a great shame."

Norway acted as facilitator for the 1993 Oslo Accords, which were seen as an important step for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. The Norwegians are actively trying to broker peace in Sri Lanka between the government and Tamil rebels.

Swiss attempts to find a solution to Kosovo, in contrast, took a bad turn last May when suggestions that Kosovo should be granted formal independence angered Serbia.

More peacekeepers

Holbrooke also believes that Switzerland should send more troops to conflict zones to act as peacekeepers.

Swiss peacekeeping troops abroad have only been allowed to carry guns since voters approved a change in the constitution in 2001, but soldiers have only been committed in significant numbers in Kosovo so far.

"There should be more Swiss in the international UN peacekeeping efforts. I don't understand that," Holbrooke said.

He stressed that the Swiss had good soldiers, a reason why they should increase their peacekeeping activities.

"It is fine to guard the Geneva Conventions but the world needs peacekeepers. Switzerland, which faces no external threat and has a very large standing army, ought to produce more troops for the UN."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Richard Holbrooke was US ambassador to the UN from 1999-2001, Ambassador to Germany 1993-1994, Assistant Secretary for State for Europe 1994-1996, was the architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia in 1995 and was Special Envoy to Cyprus 1997.
His grandmother came from Zurich and his mother spent her childhood in the city after leaving Germany.
His wife Kati Marton is on the board of Human Rights Watch.

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In brief

A referendum on June 10, 2001, approved a change in the constitution that allowed Swiss peacekeeping troops on duty abroad to carry guns.

A 220-strong Swisscoy contingent of troops has been based in Kosovo since 1999 and will remain until 2008.

Switzerland has offered to act as a facilitator during ongoing United Nations talks on the future of Kosovo. In May last year Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey was rebuked by Serbia for promoting independence for Kosovo.

Switzerland's efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fell on deaf ears when Israel rejected the Geneva Accord in 2003.

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