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Statement by the President of the Swiss Confederation during the General Debate at the 67th UN General Assembly

Bern, 26.09.2012 - 67th session of the UN General Assembly, speech before the General Assembly, New York, 25 September 2012 Declaration by the President of the Swiss Confederation, S.E. Mme Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf

Unofficial translation

 

Mr. President of the General Assembly, Heads of State and Government,

Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

10 years of Switzerland in the UN

It was exactly ten years ago that Switzerland joined the UN as the one hundred and ninetieth member state. And it was the first country in which UN membership was approved by the citizens in a popular vote. The UN and Switzerland share the same values and pursue the same goals: the promotion of peace and security, sustainable development, the protection and promotion of human rights and the provision of emergency relief to victims of conflict and natural disasters.

We face significant and pressing challenges in all these areas. Climate change, food security, water scarcity, migration, organised crime, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons do not halt at our borders. These are global challenges, which threaten entire regions. In an increasingly interconnected world, we have to search for global solutions; global solutions which enjoy regional and national support. It is not enough to simply maintain the status quo. We have to find solutions today for the challenges we will face tomorrow.

For a strong, modern and efficient UN

The UN has worldwide membership. This gives it unparalleled legitimacy and places it in a unique position to find and implement solutions to global challenges, solutions which therefore enjoy broad support. In view of the growing interdependence between these challenges, we need the UN now more than ever. It must take its place at the heart of international governance. But each and every member state is called upon to play its part. If we are to master these herculean tasks, it is not enough to settle for the lowest common denominator - as is all too often the case when consensus is reached at the UN.

In order for the UN to overcome these challenges, it must be efficient, innovative and capable of taking action. What does that mean?

The UN can be efficient if it updates and optimises its processes so that it can act more rapidly and in a more coordinated manner, despite growing budgetary pressures. Switzerland supports the reform agenda of the UN Secretary-General. This should be implemented swiftly.

The UN can be innovative if it develops new ideas and approaches which fully capture the big picture. The current UN structures have evolved over a number of decades. As a result, people tend to think and act along conventional lines. More intensive exchanges within the UN, as well as with actors from the worlds of academia, civil society and the private sector, promote creativity and foster broad support for UN activities. Such exchanges are actively encouraged at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Switzerland also supports the expansion of the UN's ‘think tank' activities. The grouping of these activities in Geneva would create even greater creative potential.

The UN is ultimately capable of acting if it helps to find solutions to conflictive issues and does not block them. The exercising of veto rights in the Security Council in cases of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity is difficult to justify. Switzerland and other member states therefore continue to call for a reform of Security Council working methods. Its transparency and cooperation with other UN bodies should be improved and the use of veto rights should be limited.

Peace and Security

Mr. President,

As Switzerland traditionally defends dialogue, we call upon all states and peoples to do what they can to seek understanding and peaceful coexistence among cultures, religions and beliefs. Freedom of conscience and of religion, as well as freedom of opinion and of expression are core values guaranteed universally which must be protected and respected. An opinion that is disliked does not under any circumstances warrant a violent response. It should be addressed on the ground by means of ideas and arguments, if need be via the law, particularly if it prompts hatred, be it national, racial or religious. The recent attacks against diplomatic representations are therefore inacceptable, whatever the motive for them. We all have a shared responsibility to promote tolerance and respect for our beliefs.

As the theme of the current General Assembly you have chosen 'bringing about adjustment or settlement of international situations by peaceful means'. I congratulate you on your choice. In recent years, the UN has expanded its capacity in mediation and preventive diplomacy and in particular has improved its mediation processes. However, we must go a step further, as the lion's share of the UN budget is still used for peacekeeping operations.

Switzerland  believes  that  investing  more  in  peaceful  means  of  dispute  resolution,  particularly mediation and preventive diplomacy, will pay dividends in the long run. The same can be said of states as of people: prevention is better than cure!

It is not simply a question of cost: every conflict that is avoided also prevents human suffering and stops those countries concerned from taking a step backwards in their development. Over the last ten years, Switzerland has been actively involved in over thirty mediation processes in around twenty countries. It regularly makes its knowledge and experts available to the UN and would like to see this cooperation intensified.

Special Political Missions are a modern response to these complex political realities. For example, they allow the UN to respond rapidly and flexibly to constitutional crises or coups. And as the main instrument of preventive diplomacy, they should be reinforced, for example by creating an appropriate budget framework for them in the UN system.

Mr. President,

If attempts at prevention fail, the international community must take decisive action. And in such cases, the UN has to demonstrate that it is an assertive organisation capable of taking action. Switzerland is following the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria with great concern. Human rights and international humanitarian law are being flouted in Syria as we speak; innocent people are dying, caught in the crossfire between the Syrian army and the armed opposition. Thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands are trapped, over a million are trying to flee within their own country, and over 250 000 (two-hundred and fifty thousand) have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Gaining access to injured and traumatised victims unable to leave the embattled territories is almost impossible. UN organisations estimate that 2.5 (two point five) million people are in urgent need  of  humanitarian  assistance.  Switzerland  has  contributed  humanitarian  aid  to  Syria  and neighbouring countries amounting to over 15 (fifteen) million dollars (13 million Swiss francs).

There will be no security as long as human rights are being violated in the most serious manner, and as long as those responsible believe that they are safe from prosecution. Switzerland therefore demands that those responsible for serious human rights violations be called to account. Impunity is not only immoral. It also hinders the post-conflict reconciliation process in society and encourages history to repeat itself. Switzerland heads a group of over thirty countries calling for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court. I call upon you, the heads of state and government present here today, to support this initiative.

The international community must be made aware of the extent of human rights violations in Syria. Switzerland welcomes the work of the Commission of Inquiry set up by the Human Rights Council and calls for it to be strengthened.

Lastly, Switzerland also welcomes the appointment of the new Joint Special Representative for Syria, Mr. Brahimi. It will do its utmost to help him find a political solution to the conflict.

Sustainable development

Mr. President,

We know that we are not using the world's available resources sustainably. We know that humans are exploiting these resources for short-term gain and that we are the cause of climate change. The fate of our planet rests in our hands. Much will depend on whether we succeed in making the step to sustainable development, and whether we succeed in moving towards a ‘green economy'. The Outcome Document from Rio+20 provides an opportunity to do this. We must act today so that future generations do not have to pay the price for our inaction.

A great deal of mutual distrust remains, however. As does the fear that not everyone will be able to compete on equal terms in a green economy. We must overcome this hurdle. Switzerland will play its part in sharing the burden between north and south. The Green Climate Fund will be a key element in financing this restructuring. It should therefore be set up without delay, and in an optimal environment. I am convinced that Geneva can offer that environment.

The transition to a green economy also requires new approaches, both in ways of thinking and acting. Any change creates winners and losers. With regard to sustainable development, however, the

winners and losers are identical. They are future generations. Either they will be able to benefit from natural resources and enjoy a higher standard of living in a more or less intact environment, or they will  experience  a  decline  in  the  standard  of  living  and  have  to  cope  with  the  far-reaching consequences of exploited resources and climate change. Our common challenge lies in generating prosperity for all without overexploiting our natural resources.

Switzerland places great importance on the post-2015 political agenda. We can all benefit from the experiences of the Millennium Development Goals and build upon them. The process is an opportunity to consider all dimensions of sustainable development together and, for the first time ever, develop a universal system of targets for the good of future generations throughout the world. Switzerland is convinced that setting Sustainable Development Goals is an important element in strengthening sustainable development. It will play an active part in preparing this new system of goals. Switzerland firmly believes that the post-2015 discussions and Sustainable Development Goals should be combined in a single process.

Mr. President,

The Roman philosopher Seneca said: "It is not that we have so little time, but we lose so much". So let us tackle these huge challenges today! Let us join forces to bring about more peace and security in the world and better protect human rights. Let us take action against the authors of the most serious human rights abuses and bring them to account. Let us take bold steps for more sustainable development in the interests of our children and grandchildren. And let us strengthen the UN so that, as the only truly universal organisation, it is better equipped to address these immense challenges.

Thank you.

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