Switzerland marks one year at the UN

Switzerland became the 190th member of the UN one year ago Keystone

Swiss membership of the United Nations has had a positive impact on both the country and the world body, according to Swiss officials.

This content was published on September 10, 2003 - 08:04

Switzerland took its seat at the world table one year ago, when it was confirmed by the General Assembly as the UN’s 190th member last September.

“We have managed to strengthen our foreign policy tools and use them better in the context of the UN… so that is an asset and advantage for Switzerland,” said Christian Faessler, one of Switzerland’s three ambassadors to the UN in Geneva.

"We have also been working to promote international and humanitarian law and multilateralism and, in this sense, I think we have modestly contributed to the international community,” he told swissinfo.

Neutrality

As Switzerland prepared to join the UN, sceptics warned that the country’s cherished neutrality and objectivity would be compromised by the move.

They also tried to convince the Swiss electorate that the country would be drafted into foreign conflicts and forced to vote on controversial issues.

But, according to political analyst Clive Church, Switzerland has succeeded in upholding the classic ideals of its foreign policy, including neutrality, peace, solidarity and democracy.

“The critics said that Switzerland would become a tool of the great powers, but that hasn’t happened,” Church told swissinfo.

“Switzerland has very much stood on its own two feet. If anything, it’s become more critical of the great powers,” he added.

Faessler agrees that full membership has allowed Switzerland to become more vocal in promoting issues such as respect for international law.

At odds

Despite its warm welcome into the UN, Switzerland quickly found itself at odds with the United States, when it condemned the threat of American-led military action against Iraq earlier this year.

“We consider the use of force, outside the legal framework of the UN, as an act of war… and Switzerland has always condemned warlike aggression,” the foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, told swissinfo in March.

Faessler believes Switzerland did the right thing in coming out in favour of a peaceful resolution to the crisis, despite the fact that the coalition went ahead with war.

“By sticking to its principles and promoting the role of the UN, countries like Switzerland have shown what the reference point is and the importance of the UN,” said Faessler.

He added that the conflict should not be seen as a failure of the UN and underscored the organisation’s resolve to carry out its work in Iraq.

“Certainly the circumstances and the situation have changed, but the mandate and the aims of the UN are here to stay and the UN is needed now more than ever before,” he said.

Besides the issue of Iraq, Switzerland also strongly objected to a move by the UN Security Council to grant temporary immunity from prosecution to US peacekeepers within the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The issue is likely to come up again in June, when the extension of the one-year resolution runs out, and, according to Faessler, the Swiss intend to continue opposing its renewal.

“Switzerland has also always promoted international judiciary institutions, like the ICC, because they are of primary importance and so we will pursue this line and continue to defend international jurisdiction,” Faessler told swissinfo.

Year ahead

In addition to pushing for the promotion of international law, Faessler said Switzerland planned to concentrate on three main areas at the 58th session of the UN General Assembly, which kicks off in New York on September 16.

“Our priorities this year include the strengthening of the UN and support for the ongoing reform process, which aims to give more coherence and cohesion to the work inside the organisation.”

We will also focus on the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals, including sustainable development, as well as the promotion of human security, peace and natural resources,” Faessler added.

One of the many aims of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals is to make information and communications technologies (ICTs) available to the developing world – an issue that will be dealt with at the World Summit on the Information Society in December.

The event, which will take place in Geneva, is expected to put the Swiss under the spotlight as new members of the UN.

“We attach great importance to this summit because we consider that all matters relating to information technology and communications are essential to helping solve the problems of the world and they have to be dealt with,” said Faessler.

In international and multilateral cooperation, you have to be an optimist, and summits are only a step on the road to implementation,” he added. “But the process is essential to create a peaceful, developed and democratic world.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

UN summary

Switzerland became the 190th member of the United Nations on September 10, 2002.
Swiss people voted for full membership of the organisation at a referendum in March 2002.
The country now participates fully in core UN bodies, including the General Assembly.
Switzerland’s priorities at the UN are in line with the country’s foreign policy and include the promotion of peace, solidarity, neutrality, human rights and international law.

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