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Distinguished representatives of the authorities,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends around the world,
On the evening of 10 September 2002 the sky above New York was a blaze of red and white. On that day Switzerland entered the gateway of the Nations to become the 190th member of the United Nations.
Mr. Secretary-General, thank you for accepting the invitation of the Swiss federal government to join us in celebrating together these first 10 years.
You are here with us today in Geneva for this conference and you will be with us at the reception which my country will shortly host at the Palais des Nations, and which half a million bees will transform into a lasting souvenir, in evocation of a marvellous Arab proverb which says “Before you shoot the arrow of truth, always coat the tip in honey”...
You will also be with us tomorrow in Bern, where you will address the Federal Parliament on a truly exceptional occasion.
Your presence with us here in Switzerland is a token of the esteem and friendship that characterise the relationship that has developed between Switzerland and the United Nations.
« Bienvenue, willkommen, benvenuti, bainvegni. »
It is with these words that the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed Switzerland at the General Assembly on 10 September 2002... without a doubt the very first time the Romansch language was heard in this forum of the Nations!
« Bienvenue, willkommen, benvenuti, bainvegni » ...and let me add in English and Korean – I shall allow you to guess which is which - “Welcome, anyong-haseyo" a greeting which in all possible forms Switzerland would like to extend to you here today, to you personally and to the United Nations which you represent.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ten years after entering the gateway of the Nations Switzerland has shown itself to be an active member. A country committed to clearly identified values and objectives. UN membership allows us to defend more directly and more effectively the just causes we hold dear, and especially to advance the cause of peace and security in a spirit of active solidarity. UN membership has increased our influence and our ability to act. It has thus enabled us to strengthen Switzerland’s solidarity, responsibility and sovereignty at one and the same time.
Entering the gateway of the Nations to become an insider at the headquarters on the East River as well as in the Palais des Nations has enabled us to defend our values more effectively.
Values that are enshrined in our Federal Constitution as the formal objectives of Swiss foreign policy. For as well as defending one’s legitimate interests foreign policy is a way of promoting one’s values. These formal Swiss values are five, like the fingers of the hand:
- To begin with, human rights, an essential but vast concept that can be summarised in two principles - Liberty and Equality. The notion of Fraternity, in particular through humanitarian efforts, completes the trinity. These three are part of the DNA of Switzerland and of Geneva as the humanitarian capital - the seat of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and also the human rights capital as home to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
- The second of the five values is the promotion of democracy, an area in Switzerland which has shown itself to be truly unique, being the only member state to have adhered to the United Nations on the basis of a national referendum. Or to be more precise, as is often the case in this nation which likes to think things through, after two distinct plebiscites...
- And now the third value, the supreme goal of peace. There is an Avenue to peace here in Geneva, never an easy one to climb. Peace, the wild dove that is difficult to snare, which has to be won again and again every day and deserves all our efforts. In the service of peace Switzerland is ready to answer the call whenever possible and when the combatants so desire, through mediation and good offices. Such has been our role in Iran, in the Caucasus, and in Mali in support of mediation by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Efforts in a minefield – efforts for dialogue– sometimes criticised but useful for peace and therefore necessary. Peace that makes it possible to live and still hold your head high, and which is the backbone of the UN Charter.
- Combating poverty is another of the values to which Swiss diplomacy is devoted in accordance with the Federal Constitution. It is a combat waged in particular through development cooperation. Tomorrow, Mr. Secretary-General, just before you are due to address it, the Swiss Parliament will hold a debate on a credit of more than CHF 11 billion which the Federal Council has requested for 2013-16. This is equal to one franc per inhabitant and per day, to enable us to combat hunger, thirst, misery and sickness around the world. Values and a struggle which are at the heart of the concerns of the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies. Combating poverty also means promoting economic exchanges and trade, areas in which Switzerland is equally committed, notably here in Geneva, for our own history teaches us that this is the best way for a country to escape poverty.
- Finally, the fifth value enshrined in our Constitution, protection of the environment and its resources. Active on the home front, Switzerland is also making a global contribution. Here too Geneva plays an essential role, as the host to a great many organisations and associations actively involved in environmental and climate questions. We hope that Geneva will soon be in a position to further strengthen synergies in combating climate change as the new headquarters of the Green Climate Fund as of next year, despite a voting process which sometimes allows regional alliances to take precedence over an objective analysis of the candidacies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is a great similarity between the values and actions of the UN and those of Switzerland. So great indeed that one wonders why the Confederation did not become a member of the UN until 10 years ago. Even so, these 10 years have brought remarkable progress. During this decade many from Switzerland, dedicated to Swiss values, have entered the gateway of the Nations to join the fight for a better world in these and other areas, from the inside.
Much has been accomplished.
Efforts that were worthwhile and necessary... but insufficient.
Insufficient, for if one can say that in some ways the world is a better place than 10 years ago, in many areas it has also become more instable, and indeed more a prey to injustice. Our efforts, and yours Mr. Secretary-General, distinguished representatives of the international community and my dear fellow citizens, our efforts have been considerable and justly so. But they have not been enough. And again we are reminded of the bees, this time in a proverb from Quebec: « L’abeille qui reste au nid n’amasse pas de miel » (The bee that stays in the hive makes no honey).
We need to do more, increase our commitment to shared values. We must accept responsibility. The present state of the world requires no less.
The interdependence of the problems we face is increasingly evident, on a planet that continues to shrink at the blinding speed of scientific and technological progress, progress on which it depends and to which Switzerland has made a considerable contribution. Instability caused by war, economic, political or religious crises, natural disasters or human error is a threat to all our citizens, endangering our investments, creating difficulty for trade and exports, making access to resources more difficult, causing ever greater migrations – an instability that may be hard to eradicate. And which above all can make life more difficult, with greater injustice for the children of today and future generations.
Today more than ever the problems of others become our problems. In committing ourselves to peace, to combating poverty, protecting the environment and promoting democracy and human rights, we work for stability, stability which is a prerequisite for the security of our nation, our prosperity, access to resources, and therefore our real and actual independence.
So, in defending our values we also defend our interests, those defined by our Constitution: i.e. the security, independence and prosperity of Switzerland.
Values and interests which are virtually one and the same. In the words of an old song, « Dépassé le chacun pour soi, quand je pense à toi, je pense à moi » (no longer every man for himself, when I think of you I think of me).
More than ever, solidarity equals responsibility. The motto of Swiss foreign policy in these early years of the 21st century quite naturally becomes: “Neutrality, solidarity and responsibility”. Because Switzerland so wishes. And because it could not be otherwise. The state of the world requires nothing less.
Where better to join together to respond to the challenge than in this “House of the Nations”? How can we increase our efforts so as to respond to the challenges even more effectively?
It has been the intention of the Swiss government to avoid celebrating the 10th anniversary of our adherence to the United Nations in blissful contemplation. Such an attitude would be inappropriate, for the situation in which the world finds itself is urgent and time is running out. We must look to the future, not to the past. The past 10 years should serve as a springboard, inspiring us to reflect on ways to be even more active, to be even more effective as of tomorrow, and for tomorrow.
The Federal Council has opted for two main areas of focus for Switzerland’s future efforts within the gateway of the Nations (and for the Nations):
- the promotion of greater security
- the reform of the United Nations Organization
With these two priorities Switzerland commits itself to renewed efforts in a changing world.
Since the founding of the UN at the end of the Second World War the most fundamental change for the international system perhaps concerns the norms which govern it. Although the member states remain sovereign, over the years this sovereignty has acquired a more positive sense of the individual. In underwriting the UN Charter and other international legal instruments the States Parties commit themselves to respecting such fundamental principles as renunciation of the use of force in international relations, and respect for human rights. State sovereignty is like the freedom of the individual, being limited by the sovereignty of other states and the freedoms and fundamental rights of their own populations.
In the changed system, force has been replaced by law, extending the concept of the rule of law to the international arena. The rule of law is a fundamental principle of the Swiss State, one which we wish to promote. The bottom line is the emergence of a “world ruled by law”.
New laws and obligations are not always sufficient however. The will to observe and apply them is also necessary, the political will in its most fundamental sense. The intolerable situation in Syria provides daily evidence. International obligations are being violated every single day, not just those of international humanitarian law but also the most fundamental rights of the human being. And yet the international community remains paralysed, tied in knots, as does the UN, torn between the need to act and regional as well as more global geopolitical interests that at times allow cynicism to win the day.
As for Switzerland, our efforts in Syria are on three levels:
1) The promotion against all odds of a political solution to the conflict and therefore the continuation of diplomatic efforts. In short, the preparation of the “afterwards” that is so important...
2) Humanitarian aid, for which Switzerland has increased its commitment by more than 50% in two months. And we call on all international actors to increase their efforts to assist the populations caught up in this crisis – the women, children and families fleeing from the combat zones, as well as the courageous and generous families among the populations of neighbouring countries who are ready to welcome them. Lebanon, which I visited this summer and where we are helping the host families at the northern frontier, is one example.
3) Finally, we are doing our best to combat impunity. Switzerland has brought countries together in support of an initiative asking the Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court.
These war crimes and crimes against humanity must be stopped, and they must not go unpunished. More than 30 nations already support this initiative and support has been growing rapidly in recent days as the already dramatic situation continues to worsen.
Ladies and gentlemen,
One cannot say that everywhere in the world things are going well, for in some places they are going very badly indeed. Even so, the world would undoubtedly be a sorrier place without the United Nations. Thanks to the UN we have managed to improve the international system: prohibiting the use of force unless authorised by the Security Council, instituting a “responsibility to protect” which obliges the state to protect its civilian population, and promoting the notion of human security so dear to Switzerland, to ensure the physical integrity of the individual in the face of violence. The stability and security of nations cannot be considered sufficient if the security of the men and women who inhabit them is not guaranteed. This vision incorporates a great many traditional values and policies: peacebuilding, human rights, migration policy and humanitarian policy.
When confronted by facts on the ground however the UN is far from being perfect. Again it is the situation in Syria that makes this all too clear. It is for this reason that Switzerland wishes to give priority to development in two areas: reform and human security.
We need to improve human security on this planet to achieve greater stability and then to develop the basis for prosperity.
At the same time, the UN needs to reform itself so as to be more effective, to be at least as much a place of action as of discussion. Because the right to decide vested in an organ such as the Security Council also brings with it certain responsibilities.
That is why Switzerland is committed to ensuring that the Security Council allows more consultation, operates with greater transparency, and its permanent members impose on themselves an obligation not to resort to the right of veto in cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The UN also needs to be more effective in order to offer greater protection, to be able to commit more resources and energy to the prevention of conflicts, and to make use of instruments like mediation and special political missions.
The Swiss government would like to congratulate the Secretary-General and his team – notably here in Geneva – for the efforts undertaken to improve and increase the capacities of civilian experts.
As for the broader picture of reforms, our vision is that of a United Nations that is modern, light and agile – able to effectively coordinate operations on the ground, to make more dedicated and efficient use of its resources, to adopt a more integrated approach and to improve the networking of information from the field.
Reform and security are two sides of the same coin.
In carrying out these reforms the UN must not forget its commitment to a diversity of cultures and locations.
Many international organisations and associations involved in such key areas as human rights, trade, the environment, human security and health have their headquarters in Geneva. This role of host state will remain central to Switzerland’s commitment. Geneva is useful to Switzerland which thus increases its influence in the world. But Geneva is also useful to the rest of the world.
Geneva is of course just a physical entity. We need to innovate to remain attractive. The UN and its member states also need to maintain their commitment. The renovation of the Palais des Nations will require investments above and beyond the CHF 50 million provided by Switzerland to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of its efforts. The same is true for the other organisations. Again it is a question of accepting responsibility.
Geneva is not just a physical location however. It is also and above all a state of mind. There is a “spirit of Geneva”, strengthened by the richness of the intellectual environment and the role of such institutions as the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. We would also like Geneva to be representative of Switzerland as one of the world’s most advanced nations in the areas of science and innovation. Geneva can also be a leader in the areas of research and training, promoting the reforms and changes needed for the world of tomorrow.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Switzerland has reason to be happy and proud of entering, in a very democratic manner, the gateway of the Nations 10 years ago. The UN too can be proud of what it is and what it has done for our world and its human population.
But this is not a time for satisfaction. On the contrary, we must not tolerate the imperfections, delays and inefficiencies of the System – as revealed by the uncomprehending look on the faces of so many of the world’s children, asking us from the bottom of their souls why they must be so terribly unhappy.
We must be ready to work, to work tirelessly. As of tomorrow, making even greater efforts to improve the United Nations System. So that each and every day it can do more for the stability of our world and the security of the men and women who inhabit it, and above all for the children I have just mentioned.
Switzerland is prepared to do its share, as host State, as a member State and as a State governed by the rule of law. If possible we would also like to contribute as a member of the Security Council... 10 years from now! Or more precisely in 2023-24, the period for which the Federal Council in agreement with the foreign policy committees of Parliament, has decided to propose Switzerland’s candidacy. Because it would further strengthen Switzerland’s sovereignty. Because it corresponds to our ideas of solidarity and responsibility, as compatible with our neutrality. A new way to harness our very Helvetic strengths, our ingrained democratic tradition, our daily observance of respect for minorities in the spirit of a much admired federal system, our inbuilt impartiality, our customary belief in dialogue, our passionate commitment to the tradition of offering our good offices and mediation expertise, and our long standing commitment to development cooperation as a way of combating poverty.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ten years ago Switzerland entered the gateway of the Nations full of hope. Normally when it comes time to blow out the candles on the cake one is expected to make a wish. Our wish is two-fold: that we can redouble our efforts as a UN member State, and that the Organisation makes headway on the ground, ever closer to its ideals, as far as humanly possible. For a safer and better world, and to see the troubled faces of the children light up...
Thank you for your attention and allow me to wish you a pleasant evening.