Switzerland’s Commitments as a Neutral State within the United Nations

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by Jacqueline Douniama ; translatetd into English by Claudia Bragman

The UN is the most well-known organisation across the globe. It has a strong presence in the media, where it is mentioned almost daily. It strives to maintain peace and guarantee international security. It is interesting to try and understand how Switzerland contributes to UN projects. The Swiss Foreign Policy Forum (« Foraus ») organised an conference on 17 October 2012 and this provided us with more information on the topic.

Mr Deiss, a top quality speaker

Mr Joseph Deiss is a former Member of the Swiss Council and President of the 65th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. His presence greatly enhanced the conference. During his speech, he broached several important topics, which are further explained in this article. He began by mentioning that the Swiss flag has been flying before the main UN headquarters in New York since 10 September 2002. On that day, a historic decision led Switzerland to trade in its observer status and became a true international player. But is Switzerland fulfilling expectations? What has it achieved up until now?

The Millennium Goals have greatly reduced the infant mortality rate

As head of the General Assembly, Mr Deiss has two great achievements to his name: South Sudan’s admission to the UN and the “Millennium Goals” project. During his speech, he was full of praise regarding the project’s ambitions and reminded the audience that it  has greatly reduced infant mortality over the last ten years. However, he swiftly moved on from this topic after giving a rather vague explanation as to how poverty could be further reduced. Also, he did not mention whether Switzerland played a particular role in this battle. This suggests that he considers the Millennium Goals to be more of a personal victory than an event that was led or even supported by Switzerland in particular.

Switzerland, a major player in the establishment of the Human Rights Council

However, he changed his tune when he spoke about the Human Rights Council.  Switzerland was greatly involved in its establishment in 2006; even if this was only because the Council’s headquarters are found in Geneva. According to Mr Deiss, Switzerland is very keen to organise an international forum and a space for dialogue regarding the respect of human rights. He is also pleased that Member States are agreeing to be examined by other States. This allows said States to check whether Member States are respecting human rights. There are certain measures in place to verify whether the agreement is being honoured. These include observers analysing a State’s situation regarding human rights. Nevertheless, some of the UN’s 47 Member States  are still severely violating human rights. Therefore, it is a idealistic organisation.

Switzerland advances reform initiatives

Switzerland is fighting to reform the UN Security Council. It is also working with the “Small Five” (Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Costa Rica, Singapore and Jordan) to make the UN more effective.  This small group of countries has recently supported two very concrete reforms, amongst other things. The first reform aimed to increase the number of  non-permanent Security Council members. This is said to reflect geopolitical changes and modify power relations. The second aimed to make the Security Council more democratic by changing the conditions for the right of veto. The “Small Five” wanted to prevent the five permanent members from using their right of veto for cases regarding genocides, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, these reforms were not carried out due to pressure from the permanent members of the Security Council. Nevertheless, Switzerland continues to commit to increasing transparency and dialogue with other UN bodies.

Neutrality, solidarity and peace: the UN’s key values

During the conference, Mr Deiss defined neutrality as: “being a message of peace rather than an international defence strategy.” He also read an extract of article 2 of the Swiss Federal Constitution, which states that Switzerland is committed to “fair and peaceful international order”. This vision corresponds to the UN Charter objectives and therefore, shows that  Switzerland’s commitment to the UN does not compromise its neutrality.

But what about the concepts of “solidarity” and “peace”? Certain recent occurrences, such as the initiative on banning minarets or on the expulsion of foreign criminals, suggest that Swizerland and the UN have different ideas regarding these two concepts. Additionally, Switzerland’s late membership to the UN was only supported by 54.6% of its citizens. This shows friction within the Swiss population.

It is difficult to know what the Swiss really think of the UN.  However, Switzerland does in fact seem to be a serious and ambitious UN Member State. This is demonstrated by its bid to become a non-permanent Security Council member in 2023/2024.

Could Switzerland’s neutrality ever lead it to become a major player in the Security Council? Will it commit to working towards more internal dialogue? During the conference, Luizius Wasecha, President of the Swiss Forum for International Affairs, described Mr Deiss as “someone who is able to build long-lasting bridges” towards increased solidarity worldwide. Watch this space.

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