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Geneva looks to cement international status

The UN is a key component of international Geneva Keystone

The Swiss government says it will continue to pull out all the stops to ensure Geneva remains a major player on the global stage.

The pledge of support comes as preparations to welcome a new United Nations human rights body to the western Swiss city gather pace.

Senior Swiss diplomats told a news conference on Tuesday that Geneva faced increasing competition from cities around the world eager to attract international organisations.

Geneva is home to a host of world bodies ranging from UN agencies such as the World Health Organization through to the World Trade Organization and the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross.

Recent arrivals include the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis and the permanent secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on hazardous chemicals.

But Ulrich Lehner, a senior official in the Swiss foreign ministry, warned that competition was fierce, especially from Asian cities.

“We cannot rest on our laurels,” said Lehner. “We are not alone: numerous countries and cities are interested in attracting international organisations.”

Four sectors

Blaise Godet, Switzerland’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said Switzerland would continue to concentrate on four sectors: disarmament, humanitarian affairs and human rights, economic and social issues, and the environment.

The Swiss are currently looking to streamline existing legislation defining privileges, immunity and financial assistance accorded to international organisations and diplomatic missions.

Godet also stressed efforts taken since the September 11 attacks and bombing of the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 to boost security in Geneva.

He said the government spent around SFr35 million ($27 million) a year protecting international organisations in the city.

“We cannot afford to be lax regarding security. Touch wood, the measures put in place guarantee a high level of security which does not infringe on the charm of international Geneva,” he said.

Human rights

Geneva is now awaiting the outcome of negotiations in New York on the creation of the new UN Human Rights Council, which will replace the discredited Human Rights Commission.

According to the latest resolution submitted last week to member countries, the first meeting of the new body would take place in Geneva on June 16.

Lehner told Tuesday’s news conference that opposition from some member countries to the new body being based exclusively in Geneva had faded.

The Swiss foreign ministry said it expected the establishment of the council to be a smooth process, adding that discussions were taking place with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We are in the process of resolving logistical issues and the question of office space. We hope this can all be sorted out within the next few months,” said Godet.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

According to the foreign ministry, there are around 215 diplomatic missions in the city and 22 international organisations have their headquarters in Geneva.

In all up to 38,000 people work in the international sector, once staff at the 170 non-governmental organisations present in Geneva are taken into account. In all they bring a financial gain to the canton of around SFr5 billion ($3.9 billion).

A number of tools are available to facilitate the arrival of new organisations, including the Building Foundation for International Organisations, which grants newcomers interest-free credit over 50 years.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR