Switzerland condemns US unilateral action

Micheline Calmy-Rey said the UN's authority had been undermined. Keystone

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has condemned a threat by the United States to take military action against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations.

This content was published on March 18, 2003 - 20:17

She has also questioned the effectiveness of the United Nations, saying its credibility had been seriously weakened.

Calmy-Rey's remarks followed President Bush's decision on Tuesday to give Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq or face military conflict - an ultimatum that Saddam has since rejected.

"Switzerland has never been in favour of resolving this crisis unilaterally or via the forceful intervention of a single person, nation or international power," Calmy-Rey told swissinfo. "In that respect, our position can be considered as a condemnation."

"We consider the use of force, outside the legal framework of the UN, as an act of war," she added, "and Switzerland has always condemned warlike aggression."

Human rights

The purpose of Calmy-Rey's visit to Geneva was to deliver a declaration before the UN Human Rights Commission, which began its annual session on Monday.

She used the opportunity to underscore the importance of respect for human rights during times of conflict.

"Peace, development and human rights are indisputably tied to the future of the international community," she told commission delegates. "These three pillars, which we have fought to strengthen over the years, now appear to be threatened."

According to Calmy-Rey, Switzerland's immediate concern is the protection of Iraq's civilian population, and she called on the UN's top human rights body to work to ensure their safety.

"The rights of individuals are violated in most cases of conflict," she said. "It is up to the members of this commission to make sure that international humanitarian law is respected... during conflicts that have been going on for too long, or during the one that is about to start."

Weakened position

At a press conference following her speech, the topic of human rights quickly broadened to the role of the commission and the overall credibility of the UN.

In addition to criticising the US over Iraq, Calmy-Rey also expressed her "enormous regret" that the UN had been weakened by the ongoing crisis and America's "go-it-alone" stance.

"I'm pessimistic about the fact that a member of the international community can turn its back on the UN simply because it's not satisfied with the organisation's decisions," said Calmy-Rey.

She called on UN member states to restore and reinforce the credibility of the world body.

"We must not allow the crisis over Iraq to undermine the UN's authority," she said. "The UN needs to re-examine how it functions and how it can be effective... Believe me when I say this is something we're very worried about."

UN reform

Veteran political analyst, Curt Gasteyger, told swissinfo that the breakdown in diplomatic efforts to resolve the stand-off had resulted in a crisis for the UN.

"It's certainly regrettable that the US has decided to go without, and even against, the UN," he said, "and it does fundamentally weaken the credibility of the UN and its Security Council."

He added that the UN should consider reforming its membership and voting systems to better accommodate and integrate all nations.

"The UN should really think about whether its present form and its present charter, which was designed 50 years ago, are still applicable and credible given the rise of globalisation and new threats to international security, which are coming more from non-state actors than from actual states," he said.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva


Switzerland's foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has condemned the United States' threat to attack Iraq without United Nations approval.

Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, Calmy-Rey said that Switzerland had "never been in favour of resolving the crisis unilaterally or via the forceful intervention of a single person, nation or international power".

She also warned that the UN's credibility and effectiveness had been weakened by the breakdown in diplomatic efforts to resolve the stand-off.

Political analysts agree that the UN needs to re-examine its role.

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