On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the March 3, 2002 vote on Swiss membership of the UN, Ambassador Valentin Zellweger, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, takes stock of the past years and the importance of International Geneva.
Fifteen years after Switzerland joined the United Nations, how do things stand?
The balance sheet is very positive. All the hopes we had for our membership have been fulfilled. Everything is proceeding with great convergence. The UN has proved to be a complement to our foreign policy. Switzerland has rapidly succeeded in carving out a place for itself within the organization. It is respected as an active, constructive and supportive member.
Switzerland was one of the last countries to join the UN in 2002.
Indeed, its accession was a relief for the United Nations, and since then the country has played a very constructive role. We have not only contributed a great deal in terms of ideas, but also initiatives and energy. One example is the creation of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
What qualities have enabled Switzerland to make its mark?
Swiss pragmatism, flexibility and reliability are widely recognized within the UN system. Added to this is the absence of a hidden agenda and the fact that our past does not contaminate us in the eyes of other countries, as we are not engaged in colonialism. We must also have the ambition to continue to play a constructive role, to speak the truths that others dare not, and to work to ensure that challenges are met.
Has membership of the United Nations boosted Geneva's image?
Exactly. Involvement in the UN also enables us to promote International Geneva, host to a unique concentration of international players, as a place of global governance.
"At a time of major upheaval in the world, in the face of increasingly complex humanitarian crises, and in view of the growing challenges facing our planet, international Geneva offers an ideal setting for finding consensual, joint solutions. Its unique concentration of international players and its potential for synergies and complementarities give Geneva a privileged position on the global political and economic stage".
The 34th Session of the Human Rights Council is currently taking place, with Switzerland holding the vice-presidency. Do you have any priority objectives?
The abolition of the death penalty is always a theme close to our hearts. But for the moment, we're concentrating on the situation in certain countries. We are very concerned about what is happening in Syria. One of the highlights of this session will be the presentation of the new report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This will be the first document presented since the fall of Aleppo. Switzerland has worked for several years to have the Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. This has not been possible due to vetoes. But a new criminal investigation mechanism on Syria has just been set up in Geneva. It will have to ensure that the prevailing impunity comes to an end. This is a first experiment in the field.
Switzerland is a neutral platform for peace negotiations. Is this tool in greater demand?
If the global situation becomes more complicated, and if fronts harden, there will be a growing need for a place whose neutrality is absolutely undisputed. Geneva has a tradition in this field.
Geneva is not only home to the agencies of the United Nations system, it is also home to other highly dynamic circles. You seem to be very keen to broaden their involvement in "international affairs"?
Very significant progress has been made in this field in recent years. We realize that governments alone can no longer solve the world's problems. It is therefore important to widen the circle of those who get involved and participate in the formulation of solutions. These include the worlds of academia, science, innovation, the private sector, healthcare and civil society. In this respect, Geneva is ideal, as not only are all these players represented in the city in force, but the highly pragmatic spirit that reigns here facilitates dialogue and cooperation.
How do you go about it?
The Swiss Confederation and the Canton of Geneva have encouraged new forms of dialogue by creating platforms in the humanitarian, peace, environment and health fields. They serve as vessels for finding common solutions. Some call this "Intellectual Geneva", and it is becoming indispensable to "International Geneva" in finding solutions for tomorrow.
"Geneva is an international city with a universal vocation. It is home to the second headquarters of the United Nations, as well as 34 other international institutions and organizations. The city is home to 175 states and 256 permanent representations. Civil society is active through more than 250 non-governmental organizations. With some 2,400 annual meetings attended by almost 200,000 delegates from all over the world, Geneva is the world's most important international conference center. Switzerland is committed to constantly adapting and improving the framework conditions for hosting international institutions." V. Zellweger