On September 10, 2002, after much debate, Switzerland became a member of the United Nations. This was a major step in the history and peace process of Switzerland and the vote for membership by the Swiss had a much different result than the last vote in 1986. Then, Swiss voters had rejected membership by a 3-1 margin. What also was worthy of noting was the fact that Switzerland was the first country to join the UN by way of a popular vote from the people. Prior to 2002, Switzerland functioned on an observation status in the UN’s General Assembly and on its Economic and Social Council. But due to the fact that Switzerland had no membership, they had no official seat with the UN. But even though Switzerland had no seat on the General Assembly, they did have influence and did sit participate on such institutions including the Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Environment Program and the UN Conference on Trade and Development to name a few. For the most part, the Swiss people are still in favor of their membership with the UN. And the UN benefits when an additional country feels that they can contribute to the problems of the world. Not until every country in the world is a member of the UN will it be able to run at full capacity in helping to avoid wars through talk, send aid to countries in need and provide successful sanctions to countries that threaten the peace and welfare of the world This joint venture allows Switzerland to help implement their peace process with the help of the UN as well as increasing the influence of their (FDFA) The Federal Department for Foreign Affairs. Also, in Switzerland’s short history with the UN, they have already helped to enable the UN to aid in the work that the UN is making around the world, specifically the reconstruction of Liberia earlier this week. The union shows signs of strength and durability as they continue a mutually beneficial relationship.
The relationship between Switzerland as an official member of the General Assembly and the UN is in its infancy. At the acceptance of Switzerland in the UN, H.E. Federal Counselor Joseph Deiss addressed the General Assembly and set forth the expectations and improvements that Switzerland expects to enjoy as the newest member of the UN. It is imperative, now more than ever before, that all the peoples of the world act in a spirit of solidarity. “The United Nations embodies this spirit. In joining the UN, Switzerland sends you a message of solidarity…..The world needs a strong UN: It alone can analyze problems at the world level; It alone can create a consensus between States on common goals; Switzerland has joined the UN as a neutral country, and we intend to remain neutral. But our neutral status in no way diminishes our desire for co-operation. On the contrary, it is an advantage for our peace activities. Our membership of the UN is not a change in direction but the logical consequence of our foreign policy.” (press release) Mr. Deiss went on to detail their hopes of their continued peace process while being a member of the UN. Deiss quoted the Swiss Confederation which said: The Swiss Confederation is committed… to a just and peaceful international order”. The principal aim of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. For us, therefore, the UN is the ideal place to carry out this vital mission.” (Press release)
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In general, Switzerland’s request and acceptance into the UN was praised. Kaspar Villiger, President of the Swiss Confederation, said of Switzerland’s decision to enter the UN as: “The Swiss people have reconciled their fears related to the possibility of prejudicing their valued principle of neutrality, as well as their concerns over the right to veto held by Permanent members of the Security Council.” ( Ross, 2003. 67)Villiger went on to comment that if Switzerland’s work and values of peace, neutrality and democracy made a contribution to the UN, then membership would have been worthwhile. And it has become the consensus that this will be the case. It was quickly realized the importance of Switzerland to the UN in its ability to achieve its foreign policy objectives and the protection of its national interests throughout the world. Switzerland has a clear objective with the UN Charter in continuing the relief of hunger and starvation throughout the world which has long been a concern of Switzerland. Also, the preservation of the world’s natural resources and the peaceful coexistence among people has been stressed in the UN to a greater degree because of Switzerland’s involvement in the UN General Assembly. This is made possible due to Switzerland’s officially joining the UN only 4 ½ years ago. In response and recognition to the work that Switzerland is doing in these areas, the UN makes major and regular contributions to international stability and the solution of global problems throughout the world. The most recent problem that has been gaining attention is the problem of global warming. A strong global organization in order to combat this and the problems that come with this is in the interest of Switzerland as well as the world as a whole
While being a member of the UN, Switzerland has planned to devote itself to international peace and security and that their treatment of armed conflicts around the globe is in parallel with that of the UN’s. In that effect, possible armed conflicts must be met with military, diplomatic, humanitarian as well as economic influence and that Switzerland would be in alignment with what she saw as honorable goals. Switzerland, in relation to Iraq, supported economic sanctions to a degree even though Switzerland voted to ease their sanctions in June 2003. This was in accord with the UN Security Council Resolution 1483.(Pearson, 2003) Switzerland went one step further and lifted the trade embargo, flight restrictions, and financial sanctions that had been put in place in August of 1990. However, the asset freeze and weapons embargo continued to stay in place. Switzerland in 1990, although not a member of the UN, did show their support for the UN sanctions as a reaction to Iraq’s invasion of Iraq.
Switzerland was in line with the UN and supported their economic sanctions imposed on Libya, Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as implementing an ordinance to enforce UN sanctions against the Taliban in October of 2000. But again, Switzerland voted to lift the embargo only six months later as they did with Libya. Switzerland has supported many of the UN’s sanctions but then seems to always amend their own personal sanctions in favor of the country that is at odds with the UN. In May 2002, in defiance of the UN, Switzerland lifted their sanctions on acetic acid which is used in drug production coming out of Afghanistan.( Ross, 2003) It has been the role of Switzerland, even though they are now members of the UN, to remain neutral as it has been their stance through out most of the 20th century. However, it would be incorrect to assume that Switzerland will stay completely neutral in every situation simply because they refuse to send troops to certain armed conflicts. In November 2001, the Swiss government passed an ordinance declaring the illegality of Al-Qaeda and all programs that support of fund that terrorist group. In Switzerland, more than 200 individuals or companies linked to Al-Qaeda have been blacklisted and their assets frozen. To date, this has amounted to over $22 million.
Switzerland and the UN view their partnership with a favorable response despite the fact that on numerous occasions, Switzerland has fallen short of implementing sanctions on specific countries with the same degree of fortitude as the UN. In 1994, Switzerland voted against sending Swiss troops as UN peacekeepers but did in 2001, did approve legislation which provided for the deployment of armed Swiss troops for international peace keeping missions under UN supervision as well as closer international cooperation in military training. Also Switzerland, since 2002, has made a formal pledge of solidarity with the UN. Switzerland has said that all peoples must be free from fear of death, starvation and despotism and that the rights of vulnerable individuals and groups must be protected. Switzerland has stated also that they will continue its efforts, along with the UN. To favor human security and has listed within their top ten impediments to their peace policies: the recruitment of child soldiers, eliminating anti-personnel mines and stopping the proliferation of small arms across borders.”(Press release)
Switzerland has also seen, much like many European nations leading up to America’s war with Iraq that the UN needs to take the lead in helping to resolve this conflict. Switzerland was in full support of the UN’s attempts to make a full use of multilateral institutions in order to maintain peace. Leading up to the war with Iraq, the Swiss government was quoted as saying: “Iraq has been discussed on several occasions during these past days. There is undeniably a need to act, to act with determination, in order to ensure the implementation of UN resolutions. But action must be taken together, within the UN. Only the UN can confer international legitimacy to an action against Iraq.”(McGeary, 2001)
Switzerland used its Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to help implement its peace policy. The FDFA formulates and coordinates Swiss Foreign policy on the instructions of the Federal Council. The responsibilities of the council are five fold. Their objectives are clearly defined in Switzerland’s Federal Constitution. They are: “peaceful coexistence among peoples, respect for human rights and the promotion of democracy, safeguarding the interests of the Swiss economy abroad, relieving need and poverty in the world and preserving the natural environment.”(Ross, 2003) Their headquarters are in the city of Berne and the aspect of the protection of human rights is chief among their list of priorities. As defined in Switzerland’s Constitution, human rights are “legal rights, guaranteed by international law, of persons via the state. They serve to protect human beings and their dignity in times of peace and war.”(Pearson, 2003)
Switzerland’s policy on human rights continues by breaking down these rights into three different levels. The first right is one’s civil and political rights. These are the rights that a citizen of not only Switzerland but the world to have the freedom to assemble and freedom of religion. Economic, social and cultural rights are the rights that one has for employment, education and social security. And it is the duty of the Swiss government to ensure that their citizens have and possess these rights. These rights are defined in their constitution but it is also the stance of the Swiss government to encourage, via the UN, these same rights to all of the world’s citizens. The Swiss government at times has disagreed with that the way in which this should be accomplished but many times, the goals between these two governing bodies, is in harmony. Switzerland’s humanitarian policy is designed to process the framework condition for humanitarian aid within international forums like the UN. This aid is designed to protect a person’s life before, during and after a crisis such as an armed conflict, civil unrest or natural disasters. In this respect, Switzerland looks to the UN and their leadership to help ensure that these rights are expanded to as many people as is the power of the UN to do so.
Switzerland depends upon the FDFA to support its commitment to a global humanitarian tradition. The International Red Cross was founded in Geneva. The International Committee of the Red Cross serves as the most important humanitarian organization within the UN. In this respect, Switzerland not only depends on the FDFA but also the UN and its wide reaching authority to implement these humanitarian traditions. “For Switzerland it is also a priority. The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) assists in the implementation of this goal with its peace, human rights and humanitarian policy and economic development collaboration. Switzerland’s foreign policy makes an important contribution to the peaceful coexistence of nations and thereby also to national and international security.” (Guidelines)
Switzerland also depends on the International Red Cross to implement is peace policies. The official mission of the ICR is to “to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.” (swiss.org) The motivation of the International Red Cross is also designed to fully coordinate international relief and works to promote humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles. The main tasks of the International Red Cross is to monitor compliance of warring parties with the Geneva Conventions to organize nursing and care for those who are wounded on the battlefield to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war and make confidential interventions with detaining authorities to help with the search for missing persons in an armed conflict (tracing service) to organize protection and care for civil populations to act as a neutral intermediary between warring parties. The ICR has their headquarters in Geneva which is in the heart of Switzerland and the home of the Geneva Convention which set forth international rules on how to treat prisoners during war time. So it is fitting that the ICR be held here. Of the 2000 professional workers employed by the ICR, nearly half are doctors, engineers or interpreters. Also, there are 13,000 national employees that assist the International staff. These staff works closely with the national delegations of the Red Cross.
Another way in which Switzerland implements their peace process is in the way they give humanitarian aid to troubled areas of the world. The most recent and devastating example of this would be the 2004 Tsunami that hit Indonesia, killing over 150,000 people and left over 400,000 homeless. Swiss relief organizations conducted emergency relief trips immediately following the disaster. The distribution of supplies and medicine was quickly rushed to the troubled area. Their efforts were concentrated specifically on the ensuring that there was enough safe drinking water for the survivors and their families. But once the water had subsided and the world has seemingly forgotten Banda Aceh, one of the hardest cities hit by the tsunami, Swiss organizations have implemented a five year plan in order to ensure that Indonesia has a permanent source of clean drinking water everyone and has started production of a clean water purification plant in the town of Banda Aceh. But Swiss humanitarian forces are involved in less famous natural disasters. As recently as May of 2006, aid was sent to Indonesia as well to help offset the damage that another earthquake had on the region. There were 6,000 dead and Swiss aid was concentrated on providing materials and food as well as financial support to the Indonesian Red Cross as well. In many ways, Switzerland implements their peace policy through humanitarian aid when it is most needed. In this way, Switzerland, despite its small size in both geography and population, is seen the world over as being one of the world’s leaders in peaceful negotiations and the sending of humanitarian aid. “Switzerland has made several contributions in support of this successful humanitarian aid. “Switzerland has contributed over CHF 1.35 million since 2005 to help reconstruct society and political activity in Aceh and at the same time to strengthen human rights.”(Press release)
Switzerland has had a peaceful history throughout the 20th century and now the same promises to be true into the 21st century with their joining the UN in 2002. Some within Switzerland feared that their joining the UN, Switzerland would lose their identity and be swallowed up by the UN and its influence. But even though the UN and Switzerland has not always seen eye to eye on how armed conflict should be avoided by the use of sanctions, Switzerland and the UN have held a mutually beneficial relationship, not only since 2002 but for the past twenty years as well. Switzerland has greater influence in the world when its humanitarian aid is combined with UN forces and money and the UN knows that they can count upon the International Red Cross to receive ample support from the people of Switzerland as well as the work that Swiss humanitarian forces have been doing in such troubled parts of the world as Indonesia and the 150,000 casualties of the tsunami in 2004. When the attention of the world has left Indonesia, Swiss humanitarian forces will be there for the long haul as they seek to install a permanent resource for clean drinking water through the building of a clean water production plant but also in building up Indonesia’s infrastructure as well.