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Switzerland expands international peace role

Switzerland hopes to play a greater role in resolving international conflicts

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland has embarked on a more active foreign policy aimed at increasing its involvement in international conflict resolution, after the foreign ministry on Friday inaugurated a new Centre for Peacebuilding.

"Our contribution to peace and security efforts globally has increased continuously and this reflects the will of the government to play a more important role in the efforts of the international community for peace and security," Ambassador Peter Maurer, who is the head of human rights and humanitarian affairs at the foreign ministry, told swissinfo.

The foreign ministry, Swiss non-governmental organisations and the Swiss Peace Foundation founded the Centre, which is headed by Dr Thania Paffenholz and based in the capital city, Bern.

The Centre's mandate is to "encourage a dialogue on peace issues between the administration and non-governmental organisations....Another activity involves offering services including the analysis and management of conflicts, as well as the transfer of know-how through training and continuing education courses on specific themes," the Centre said in a statement.

Ambassador Maurer believes the new organisation will be an important platform to coordinate efforts between state and non-state actors in conflict-torn regions.

Typically, conflicts today are regional and involve multiple parties. Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Zimbabwe, for example, have all been drawn in to the conflict in the central African Democratic Republic of Congo.

Laurent Goetschel, the director of the Swiss Peace Foundation and founder of the Centre, agrees that getting all parties to the negotiating table will be a tricky task in their role as conflict mediators.

"This is the most difficult task. There are many instruments and strategies such as informal personal contacts to long-term confidence building measures at all levels including the state and warring factions. There's no recipe that we can use in all these conflicts, there needs to be a lot of knowledge and long-term planning," Goetschel told swissinfo.

In the post-Cold War era, regional and civil conflicts have come to have a more direct impact on Switzerland itself. Ambassador Maurer believes that greater cooperation with non-governmental organisations and other nations is essential for Switzerland's own peace and security.

"Stable international relations are a key Swiss interest and the contribution by means of a peace policy to a stable international environment is clearly a must.

"Conflicts outside Switzerland are at the origin of migration movements and this is a problem which severely impacts the domestic situation in Switzerland. So a contribution for peace and security in the world is at the same time a contribution to deal with the problem of migration and with many other problems," Maurer said.

The endeavours of Nato, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union to interfere in civil and regional wars have often met with criticism.

Switzerland's Peacebuilding Centre carefully avoids setting itself up for condemnation of what might appear to be altruistic endeavours.

Goetschel said that the Centre is not mandated to implement any agreements, and so this barometer of the Centre's success in peace-building does not apply.

However, its efforts will come under review in two years' time. After all, the SFr1 million annual budget from the foreign ministry will have to be justified.

by Samantha Tonkin


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