The new Swiss ambassador to the United Nations says Switzerland wants to play an active role on the international political stage, largely as a mediator.
In an interview with swissinfo, Peter Maurer says the world body in New York is also a source of inspiration for domestic politics.
Maurer, who took over from Jenö Staehelin at the beginning of September, is focusing on the current session of the UN General Assembly as well as on work at committee level.
Among the main priorities of the Swiss mission at the UN headquarters in New York are development policy, civilian peace building, demining, and efforts to limit the trade in small arms.
The mission also defends Switzerland’s interests as the host country of the UN European headquarters in Geneva.
swissinfo: Switzerland only became a full member of the UN two years ago. How exactly do you see the role of the country today?
Peter Maurer: The UN provides an excellent opportunity to present ideas in a global forum. We do not belong to a specific group of countries, and are not perceived in that way.
We are trying to position ourselves in the decision-making process within the UN institutions as a country that seeks to come up with solutions and compromises. Switzerland is a mediator between different blocs and interest groups.
But we are not just neutral bystanders and bridge builders. We have an opinion of our own and are not afraid to speak out. It is also our aim to combine compromises with our own convictions and interests.
swissinfo: How important are alliances within the UN?
P.M.: Alliances are important in order to achieve majorities. We have to consider how the interests of partner countries are compatible with the interests of Switzerland.
These can be like-minded partners in the northern hemisphere or also developing countries.
swissinfo: Has Switzerland already made a mark after two years as a full UN member?
P.M.: I think we have made many marks. We are perceived as a very active member of the UN, and representatives of the Swiss mission in New York have had important mandates as mediators in negotiations on development and environmental issues as well as human rights.
And I don’t think the Swiss law professor, Nicolas Michel, would have been appointed as head of the UN legal services if we had been quiet.
swissinfo: So a small country like Switzerland is not powerless within a huge institution like the UN?
P.M.: By no means. In fact, we are not really that small and insignificant, neither economically nor when it comes to political influence – in particular our ideas on humanitarian issues or international law.
Even in terms of population, Switzerland [with 7.3 million people] is not among the smallest UN member states.
swissinfo: Has Switzerland’s foreign policy become more pronounced and self-confident?
P.M.: We were never without self-confidence in the past. But as a UN member we now have a stage where our activities have become more visible.
On the other hand we have the opportunity to see where other countries are ahead of us on certain issues. The UN is also a source of inspiration we can tap for our own domestic politics.
In the past Switzerland never played a major part in international measures to maintain peace. But we can learn about that from other countries.
swissinfo: What are the other areas where Switzerland is benefiting from UN membership?
P.M.: It has become much easier to be visible and show our political intentions. Nowadays it is important on an international level to contribute to solving problems.
As a UN member we are able to show that Switzerland is willing to help tackle problems and not just to talk about them.
Our active involvement can set straight the reputation of Switzerland as a country selfishly pursuing its own interests. Our image has already changed significantly and we have become more credible when we promote values such as solidarity.
swissinfo: You are considered an expert on human rights and peace promotion. What do you hope to achieve in your new post as ambassador to the UN?
P.M.: It helps that I have been working in the field of human rights and peace promotion. And because a leopard cannot change its spots I will continue to be active in this field.
Over the past four years I have become even more convinced that it is crucial to establish rules for the respect of human rights if we want to achieve sustainable and peaceful solutions to conflicts.
I also hope to give Switzerland a higher profile in the field of peace promotion, similar to the reputation we enjoy in development and environmental policies as well as humanitarian issues.
This could help to establish Switzerland an indispensable partner in the decision-making process.
swissinfo-interview: Gaby Ochsenbein
Two years ago Switzerland became the 190th member of the UN.
Peter Maurer took over as Swiss ambassador to the UN at the beginning of September 2004, succeeding Jenö Staehelin.
Maurer, who joined Switzerland’s diplomatic service 18 years ago, is considered a specialist on human rights and human security.