10/09/2002
Press Release
GA/10041



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Plenary

1st Meeting (PM)


WITH ADMISSION OF SWITZERLAND, UNITED NATIONS FAMILY NOW NUMBERS 190 MEMBER STATES


Priorities Listed by President of Fifty-seventh

Session Include Elaboration of Anti-Terrorism Convention


By unanimous decision, Switzerland became the 190th United Nations Member State this afternoon at the opening of the fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly.


Kaspar Villiger, President of the Swiss Confederation, said the decision of the Swiss people to take on United Nations membership reflected the country's system of direct democracy, as it had been decided at the ballot box after intensive and controversial debate.  The Swiss people had reconciled their fears related to the possibility of prejudicing their valued principle of neutrality, as well as their concerns over the right of veto held by Permanent Members of the Security Council.


Stressing that the world today faced unacceptable global differences in levels of wealth, continued recourse to violence instead of peace, terrorism and environmental degradation, Mr. Villiger said the United Nations, the only universal organization that could take up those challenges, was needed now more than ever.  If Switzerland's work -- guided by the central values of peace, democracy, neutrality and solidarity -- made a contribution that advanced the aims of the United Nations, then membership would have been worthwhile.


Welcoming Switzerland to the "family of nations", Jan Kavan (Czech Republic), President of the General Assembly, said the country's membership would strengthen the universality of the United Nations as well as its legitimacy and effectiveness.


In his opening statement to the Assembly, Mr. Kavan strongly emphasized the priorities facing the fifty-seventh session.  As the international community was in the midst of commemorating the tragic events of 11 September 2001, he urged Member States to remain focused on the fight against international terrorism and to uphold the international anti-terrorist coalition.  While he highly commended the work of the Security Council’s Terrorism Committee in that regard, he stressed that the Assembly still had an important task ahead –- namely the elaboration of a General Convention, including the definition of international terrorism.


He went on to urge the Assembly to continue its work in the area of conflict prevention. Other issues of great importance that he would follow closely included poverty eradication, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and sustainable development in

the accelerating process of globalization.  To that end, the fifty-seventh Assembly would face the important task of preparing for the 2003 High-level Dialogue following up the Monterrey Consensus.  "I am convinced that for anyone who truly understands the meaning of international solidarity, fighting against poverty and for human dignity is a task which must be tackled", he said.


In other action this afternoon, the Assembly appointed the following States to its Credentials Committee:  Argentina, Barbados, Belgium, China, Mali, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation and the United States.


The President announced that on Thursday, 12 September, at the opening of the general debate, the Secretary-General would give a brief presentation of his report on the work of the Organization.  It was also announced that the speakers' list was now open for the high-level Assembly plenary to consider the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), scheduled to be held Monday,

16 September.


As the Assembly began its work, the President announced that Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Republic of Moldova, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, Tajikistan, and Vanuatu were in arrears in the payment of their financial contributions to the United Nations within the terms of Article 19 of the Charter.


[Article 19 of the United Nations Charter states that a Member State in arrears in its contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of the arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contribution due from it for the preceding two years.]   


The General Assembly will open its general debate on Thursday, 12 September.


Assembly Background


The General Assembly met this afternoon to open its fifty-seventh session.  It was expected to appoint the members of its Credentials Committee and approve its organization of work.  It was also expected to admit Switzerland as a new Member State.


The Assembly had before it a draft resolution on Admission of the Swiss Confederation to membership in the United Nations (A/57/L.1).


Also before the Assembly was a letter dated 9 September 2002 from the Chairman of the Committee on Conferences to the President of the General Assembly (document A/57/389).  It authorized the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and the Committee on Conferences to meet in New York during the main part of the Assembly’s fifty-seventh session.


The Assembly also had before it a letter dated 9 September 2002 from the Secretary-General to the President of the General Assembly (document A/57/390), which lists 16 Member States in arrears under Article 19 of the Charter.


Opening Statement by General Assembly President


JAN KAVAN (Czech Republic), President of the General Assembly, said he would assume his office with a great responsibility, desire and commitment to contribute, in his modest personal capacity, to further strengthen the role of the United Nations.  He then turned directly to highlight the priorities of the Assembly’s work for the fifty-seventh session.  As the international community was in the midst of commemorating the tragic events of 11 September 2001, he urged the Assembly to remain focused on the fight against international terrorism and to uphold the anti-terrorist international coalition.


He said strengthening United Nations instruments, including the set of international treaties combating terrorism, should be central to the international community’s efforts.  While he highly commended the work of the Security Council’s Terrorism Committee in that regard, he stressed that the Assembly still had an important task ahead -– namely the elaboration of a General Convention, including the definition of international terrorism.  He urged Member States to proceed with their work in the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Sixth Committee (Legal) on that issue.  He also stressed his readiness to take an active part in all United Nations efforts to combat international terrorism.


He went on to urge the Assembly to continue its work in the area of conflict prevention.  Recent experience suggested that certain conflicts could be prevented through diplomacy, preventive deployment and preventive disarmament.  Further, in a relevant report, the Secretary-General had emphasized the need to enhance the capacity of the United Nations preventive capacity and to help move the world from a culture of reaction towards a culture of prevention.  The need for an effective strategy for conflict prevention was underlined by the number of existing conflicts in the world today, including one of the most protracted –- the Middle East.  During the fifty-seventh Assembly he would like to contribute, to the extent possible, to existing efforts to political resolution of that conflict.


Other issues of great importance that he would follow closely included poverty eradication, the fight against HIV/AIDS and sustainable development in the accelerating process of globalization.  To that end, he said that the fifty-seventh Assembly would face the important task of preparing for the 2003 High-level Dialogue following up the Monterrey Consensus.  Building global partnerships for development was the key to its success, and during his presidency he would pay special attention to closer cooperation between the United Nations and major stakeholders, namely the Bretton Woods institutions and the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as other multilateral institutions and representatives of the private sector and civil society.


He went on to say that he would support an early follow-up to the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development.  Although he was sure there was no direct causal link between poverty and terrorism, he was equally sure that extreme poverty was one of the important ingredients which, in combination with others –- including unresolved and protracted political conflict –- could produce a potentially explosive cocktail.  At the very least it could lead to anger, powerlessness and frustration which could create fertile ground for fundamentalist, radical or even terrorist behaviour.  It was therefore imperative to implement the Millennium Development Goals and fight poverty, not only for moral and humanitarian reasons but also as an integral part of the fight against terrorism and extreme intolerance of all kinds.  "I am convinced that for anyone who truly understands the meaning of international solidarity", he said, "fighting against poverty and for human dignity is a task which must be tackled...Inaction is not an option".


DOMINIQUE VILLEPIN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, introduced the draft resolution on Admission of the Swiss Confederation to membership in the United Nations (A/57/L.1).  He said geography had made France and Switzerland neighbours, but history had made them friends.  Switzerland’s admission to the United Nations would allow it to play a role in crucial questions of development with full respect for its neutrality, and enjoy fresh opportunities for action and influence in the name of peace, prosperity and security for humankind.


Following the unanimous adoption of the resolution, the representatives of Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the African States), Iran (on behalf of the Asian States), Ukraine (on behalf of the group of Eastern European States), Suriname (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group), Portugal (on behalf of the West European and other States) and the United States (on behalf of the Host Country) were among those who congratulated Switzerland on its admission today to the membership of the United Nations.


KASPAR VILLIGER, President of the Swiss Confederation, affirmed, on behalf of the Swiss people, the desire of Switzerland to join the United Nations and expressed their gratitude to all members of the General Assembly for admitting his country into the United Nations.  Faced with unacceptable global differences in levels of wealth, continued recourse to violence instead of peace, terrorism and environmental degradation, the United Nations was needed more than ever, said Mr. Villiger.  As the United Nations was the only universal organization that could

take up those challenges, Switzerland had been working closely with the Organization for many years.


The Swiss people had struggled with the question of full United Nations membership, said Mr. Villiger.  On one hand, the defining values of justice, peace and solidarity expressed by the preambles to the United Nations Charter were central to Swiss democracy, as was the importance of international law.  On the other hand, there were concerns over whether the United Nations was in a position to achieve its aims.  Other fears about membership related to the right of veto held by the Permanent Members of the Security Council, and the possibility of prejudicing the principle of neutrality long valued by the Swiss people. 


Switzerland was a country brought together by a common will, said Mr. Villiger.  National cohesion was not taken for granted in a country lacking the unifying force of a common culture or language.  Therefore, only the people of Switzerland were able to undertake the decision for membership in the United Nations.  That decision followed an intensive and controversial debate in Switzerland.


Switzerland’s application for membership in the United Nations made reference to its neutrality, a principle, said Mr. Villiger, which had as its basic precept a rejection of war and violence as a means of resolving conflict.  That had long been a maxim of Swiss foreign policy and had served as an instrument for national cohesion.  Yet Swiss neutrality was not self-serving, and would not prevent Switzerland from protesting against injustice.  Neutrality, combined with solidarity, meant that while the Swiss would not participate in any peace enforcement operations, they would be ready to help in peacekeeping and humanitarian tasks.  Finally, on the eve of 11 September 2002, it was important to note that there would never be neutrality where terrorism and criminal acts were concerned.


The work of Switzerland within the United Nations would be guided by the central values of peace, democracy, dignity, neutrality and solidarity, promised Mr. Villiger, and Switzerland would remain committed to good governance, protection of the environment, sustainable development and conditions conducive to an open world economy.  If Switzerland made a contribution that advanced the aims of the United Nations, he concluded, then membership of the United Nations would have been worthwhile.


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