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Swiss put positive spin on UN summit

The three-day summit was the largest ever gathering of world leaders

(Keystone)

Switzerland's ambassador to the United Nations has rejected criticism that a three-day world summit, which closed on Friday, had been a missed opportunity.

Peter Maurer said there were plenty of positives to show from the meeting of 150 world leaders, despite claims from NGOs that nothing significant had been achieved.

"I would not say it's been a missed opportunity," Maurer told swissinfo. "I think the secretary-general [Kofi Annan] has given an accurate description, making it quite clear that there have been important advances and increasing convergence of views in a number of areas."

"But there have also been issues on which agreement was not possible and on which work will be needed in the future."

Maurer denied that the summit schedule had been too ambitious, saying it had been the right decision to put human rights, development, peace and UN reform on the table.

Ahead of the meeting, the world body hailed the summit as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold decisions in the areas of development, security, human rights and reform of the United Nations".

It was also designed to breathe life into the Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty and child mortality by half and to reverse the spread of HIV/Aids by 2015.

The final declaration for the summit mapped out a number of initiatives including the establishment of a new Human Rights Council, a Peacebuilding Commission and an obligation to protect civilians against genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

But the document, many elements of which were bitterly contested, failed to agree a common approach to the spread of weapons of mass destruction or a new definition of terrorism.

It also fell short of developing nations' hopes on trade and aid, and there was little progress on UN reform.

Human rights

Switzerland, which drafted the proposal for a smaller standing human-rights body, now has to wait and see what progress the 60th General Assembly makes in terms of deciding its size and mandate.

Maurer said he was confident that outstanding issues would be clarified over the next 12 months and that the end result would prove an effective replacement for the discredited Human Rights Commission.

"I am not really worried about whether the proposal will be watered down," he said. "But I think we would have hoped for a quicker decision."

Maurer confirmed that Switzerland was in favour of contributing around $4 million (SFr5 million) to a proposed $150 million UN emergency fund to enable rapid response to natural disasters and other emergencies.

NGO reaction

Loubna Freih, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, described the final document as a "very timid compromise". But she welcomed moves towards replacing the Human Rights Commission and praised Switzerland's leading role in the process.

"Switzerland has played an important role in putting the notion of a standing human-rights council on the table," she said.

"I hope that they can pursue some of these consultations... and help guide some of the discussions. They need to help in keeping up the momentum."

Bastienne Joerchel of Alliance Sud, a coalition of Swiss NGOs, was also critical of the outcome of the summit. She said it was even a step back from the millennium summit of 2000.

"This meeting should not only have been confirming the decisions taken in 2000 but should have also brought some concrete measures from the international community to realise the millennium objectives," she said.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in New York

Key facts

The three-day summit in New York was the largest gathering of world leaders in history.

The main issues covered in the UN summit document are development, the Human Rights Council, the Peacebuilding Commission, responsibility to protect, terrorism and UN management reform.

The document calls on countries "to make concrete efforts to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent" of their gross national product for foreign aid.

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