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UN membership boosts Switzerland's standing

Swiss President Kaspar Villiger (right) addresses the UN General Assembly in September 2002

(swissinfo.ch)

Most political parties, bar the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, say they are pleased with Switzerland’s track record as a member of the United Nations.

They believe UN membership has helped to raise the country’s profile on the international stage since it joined the world body exactly two years ago.

“Unfortunately there is not a majority in parliament in favour of playing a bigger role within the UN and allocating more funding,” said Liliane Maury Pasquier, a centre-left Social Democratic parliamentarian.

“As a result, I fear Switzerland does not have sufficient resources to carry out effectively certain mandates handed out by the UN,” she added.

Maury Pasquier, who is a member of the foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives, said a lack of funding was hampering Swiss-led consultations on behalf of the UN about Israel’s controversial security barrier in the West Bank.

But this is not a view shared by everyone – not least the People’s Party, which vehemently opposed UN membership in the first place.

“This mandate is jeopardising Switzerland’s traditional neutrality,” countered fellow committee member and People's Party parliamentarian Ulrich Schlüer.

UN reform

He accuses the government of failing to honour pledges made during the campaign ahead of the nationwide vote on Swiss membership of the world body.

“They promised to push for reforms within the UN and its Security Council, but nothing has been done,” he told swissinfo.

However, both the centre-right Liberal Party member, Jacques-Simon Eggly, and Geri Müller of the centre-left Green Party, reject this criticism.

“It is too easy to attack the government. Reforms take a long time,” said Müller.

He added that parliament should seek to work more closely with the UN and react to the themes being debated, rather than simply rubberstamp the government’s activities on the world stage.

Humanitarian policy

Most political parties have also welcomed Switzerland’s involvement in the field of international humanitarian law.

John Dupraz of the centre-right Radical Party said the appointment last May of Swiss diplomat Nicolas Michel as head of the UN legal services department in New York was recognition of Switzerland’s reputation abroad.

But Schlüer takes the view that nothing has been done to adapt the Geneva Conventions – of which Switzerland is the depository state – to the threat of terrorism and new forms of conflict.

But others, including human rights organisation Amnesty International, say Switzerland has stressed the importance of legal standards among UN member states.

Good offices

The question of whether Switzerland should try to play the role of peacemaker in armed conflicts is also a source for debate.

Reto Nause, secretary-general of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, believes that Switzerland has increasingly been able to offer its good offices to others.

“On the contrary,” said Curt Gasteyger of the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies. “Switzerland is facing competition from more influential countries.”

According to Xavier Contesse, of the business think tank Avenir Suisse, the country should therefore explore new avenues.

“Geneva is the seat of more than 700 non-governmental organisations as well as international organisations and diplomatic missions. It’s a forum of debate for issues of global importance.”

“Switzerland should take advantage of this opportunity and join in the exchange of ideas,” he added.

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

Key facts

On September 10, 2002, Switzerland became the 190th full member of the United Nations.
Swiss voters had approved membership in a nationwide ballot in March 2002.
All the major political parties, except for the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, had come out in favour of joining the world body.

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