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Annan seeks to reassure Swiss over UN membership

Kofi Annan says Switzerland's independence is not threatened by UN membership Keystone Archive

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, has told Swiss voters that membership of the UN will not compromise neutrality.

In an interview with the French-language daily “Le Temps” Annan sought to reassure those Swiss considering voting no in the referendum on UN membership in March 2002.

Annan noted that Switzerland was already a member of the International Court of Justice and of many UN agencies: “Your country is already part of the United Nations family, and the neutrality of Switzerland has never been compromised,” he said.

He added that the UN charter did not oblige countries to take part in military operations or any action that required the use of force. They were, however, required to join UN sanctions. But Switzerland had not only collaborated in imposing such measures, it had been a driving force, Annan said.

“Far from compromising its neutrality, such actions help to reinforce its international stature,” the UN chief told the paper.

Switzerland and the Vatican are the only remaining states in the world not to be members of the UN. The Swiss government is campaigning for a yes vote in March’s referendum.

Loss of sovereignty

Le Temps put forward many of the arguments being used by the “no” camp. One was that membership of the UN would lead to a loss of sovereignty, given the power of the permanent members of the Security Council.

“It is up to the Swiss people to decide what they want. But I believe that in terms of power in intergovernmental contacts, Switzerland will have more influence as a member of the UN with full voting rights, than as an observer,” Annan explained.

He rejected the suggestion that Switzerland was of more use to the world as a neutral and independent state, and that the UN was dominated by the big powers.

Role of smaller countries

“It is often the smaller countries, and people who come from them, that play a central role at the United Nations, bringing the opposing camps together, forging alliances, encouraging peace, security and development,” he said. “I am convinced that in this effort, Switzerland could play a major role.”

He said he believed Switzerland’s humanitarian operations would be strengthened if it joined the UN, and Swiss expertise would help to improve UN aid efforts.

Annan also said he did not believe UN membership would dilute the decision-making power of ordinary Swiss citizens.

He acknowledged that as a full member, Switzerland would have to increase its financial contribution to the UN, but that this would be done in a “perfectly equitable way”.

“As a member with full rights, Switzerland will be able to have its say at the General Assembly on this matter as on all the others,” Annan said.

by Roy Probert

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