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Swiss people to have final say on joining United Nations

The Swiss people are to vote on joining the United Nations. Supporters of a people's initiative have collected well over the necessary 100,000 signatures to force a nationwide vote. UN membership was rejected in a previous vote in 1986.

This content was published on March 6, 2000 - 15:49

The Swiss people are to vote on joining the United Nations. Supporters of a people's initiative have collected well over the necessary 100,000 signatures to force a nationwide vote. UN membership was rejected in a previous vote in 1986.

The head of the initiative committee, Remo Gysin, said the aim of the vote was to end Switzerland's isolation and get it to accept its global responsibilities.

"If Switzerland wants to be effective in development, humanitarian and economic activities, it needs partners," Gysin, a Social Democrat member of parliament told Swiss radio International. "There are 188 partners waiting to welcome us."

Along with the Vatican, Switzerland is the only country not to be a member of the UN.

At a news conference in Berne, the initiative's organisers said fears that they would fail to meet Wednesday's deadline had led to an intensive final spurt, resulting in a total of 125,800 valid signatures. They said they had gathered 70,000 signatures since the New Year. They had 18 months for the campaign.

The organisers added that the effort made to collect the signatures had helped the development of a popular movement for membership of the UN.

But they also noted that the Swiss people's knowledge about the UN was limited, and that a lot of effort would have to be put into informing the public before the referendum is held. The government now has to call a nationwide vote on joining the UN within 39 months.

In 1986, the Swiss overwhelmingly rejected joining the UN in a similar vote. Over 75 per cent of the electorate turned down the proposal. Supporters of the latest initiative are hoping that changes in the world brought about by the end of the Cold War will make the Swiss more sympathetic to UN membership.

"The world has changed," said Patrick Loeb, who managed the initiative campaign. "The Berlin Wall no longer exists. People are increasingly feeling the effects of globalisation and are realising that problems affecting Switzerland can't be solved unilaterally."

Switzerland's non-governmental aid groups have been prominent in the campaign. They say the country doesn't wield the kind of clout its contribution to the UN deseserves.

"We want to have Switzerland participating actively in world politics and in the UN system," said Peter Niggli, head of the Swiss Coalition of Development Groups.

"Already Switzerland is contributing financially as much as if it were a member of the system, but it's not deciding as a member of the system. That's absurd," Niggli told SRI.

Switzerland is home to the European headquarters of the UN, in Geneva, and is also a member of many of the world body's specialised agencies, such as the World Health Organisation and the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Unesco.

From staff and wire reports

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