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Swiss president says economy key to global human rights

The Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, reminded rich countries of their responsibilities

(Keystone)

The Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, has called on rich countries and big business to do more to reduce poverty in developing countries. He told the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva that economic development was the key to improving human rights around the world.

"A world of glaring inequalities and growing poverty cannot be a world at peace," Leuenberger said. "The right to development is an integral part of human rights."

"Rich countries bear a special responsibility in the face of this immense poverty," he said, adding that protectionism, unequal trade, low levels of investment and cooperation did not favour development.

"Having globalised the economy, we must now globalise political, economic and social responsibility," the Swiss president told the UN commission, which he described as the moral conscience of the international community.

He said that "no government, society, ethnic group or multinational company could escape from its local or global responsibility".

He praised the Global Compact between the private sector and civil society, proposed by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in 1999. Leuenberger said it established a clear link between human rights, the right to work and the environment.

Leuenberger was the first Swiss president not also serving as foreign minister to address the Commission's annual session.

He called for concrete actions - such as political and economic measures against repressive regimes - to combat human rights abuses around the world, saying that "our responsibility should go much father than mere incantation".

Nevertheless, he singled out three of the great powers - the United States, Russia and China for their human rights violations.

Leuenberger omitted a reference to abuses in "Afghanistan, Sudan, Algeria, the Middle East and other regions", which appeared in a pre-released version of his speech.

He said that, with its new constitution, Switzerland was putting itself forward as a model country with regard to the right of the individual. But he acknowledged that his country was still occasionally condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.

"This demonstrates that fundamental freedoms must always be defended, that one must battle for their implementation, even in a country with a long democratic tradition like Switzerland," Leuenberger said.

The Swiss president also said that he intended to attend the UN special conference on racism in South Africa in September.

That conference was the main topic of the speech by Annan, who called on countries to step up efforts to make it a success. Preparations for the conference have been hindered by disagreements between industrialised countries and the developing world, most notably over compensation for slavery and colonialism.

"It is crucial for states to cooperate," Annan said. "We need a document that looks unflinchingly at ourselves and the flaws in the societies we have built."

"We need a forward-looking document that acknowledges and builds on the past, but does not get lost there," he added.

Annan is on the last day of three-day official visit to Switzerland. Other dignitaries addressing the UN Human Rights Commission session include the French president, Jacques Chirac, Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, all of whom Leuenberger is holding bilateral talks with.

by Roy Probert


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