General Assembly

58th session

General debate Statement by

H.E. Mr. Pascal Couchepin

President of the Swiss Confederation

New York, 23 September 2003

Unofficial translation

Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Heads of State and Government,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the dawn of the new millennium, the Heads of State and Government of the UN members States joined to reaffirm in unison their shared objectives.Three years later, this apparent international consensus has been seriously eroded. Member states no longer agree on what they consider to be the principal threats to security today. Nor do they share the same priorities. While some States give precedence to the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, other regions in the world see the main dangers in civil wars, the proliferation of small arms, poverty, hunger, and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Can the international community reach a consensus on the objectives to be attained and on the way to achieve them? What importance should we give to multilateral co-operation? Has the time come to review the system of collective security which we inherited from the Second World War? Could it be that the UN is due for far-reaching reform?

The fact that so many Heads of State and Government have responded to the Secretary­General's invitation is the beginning of an answer. It is encouraging that the member States look to the United Nations to find solutions. We must seize the opportunity of this debate to reaffirm our belief in the importance of multilateral co-operation and in the goals of the United Nations.

Life in society demands a minimum of order, rules and solidarity. This also applies to international relations. Switzerland attaches high importance to respect for international law. This explains our commitment to international humanitarian law and to the International Criminal Court. Without international law, many countries would feel at the mercy of the strongest. But the great powers, like the smaller ones, need a multilateral framework to resolve their differences.

The time has come to rethink the role of the United Nations. Almost 60 years after the foundation of the Organisation, the threats to international security have changed, and so have the geopolitical realities. Terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have taken on global dimensions. Civil wars have multiplied. HIV/AIDS has become the most deadly epidemic in the history of humankind. Poverty has not been eradicated.

The issue of security can no longer be addressed in purely military terms. We need to review our vision of security with a view to placing the individual at the centre of our attention. By broadening our approach to security and by placing the emphasis on human security, we can overcome at least a part of the current differences on this issue that exist between the North and the South.

Together with other countries, Switzerland endeavours to promote this idea of human security. This year it will commit itself to the issues of small arms and light weapons, and to anti-personnel mines. We hope that the General Assembly will set up a working group to develop an instrument for marking and tracing small arms. If the members states accept, Switzerland is prepared to take the chair. Furthermore, Switzerland takes an active interest in the issue of migration. We are working together with other countries to establish a global commission on migration which will be asked to present recommendations.

In order to promote human security, we must also keep to the promises made in the field of 6 development. the Millennium Declaration we have undertaken to ensure that 'globalisation becomes a positive force for all humankind'. To this end we have adopted a series of clear objectives matched with deadlines. But to proclaim goals alone is not enough; we now have to fulfil them. If the rich countries do not keep their promises, they will rob the others of a vision of a more prosperous future. In Cancun the members of the World Trade Organisation tried to revive trade liberalisation. Although positions converged, disagreements persist and the risk of lasting failure exists. This would result in weakened growth at the global level to the detriment of all countries. We need to give negotiations another chance and avoid the temptation of protectionism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To affirm one's conviction in the multilateral system does not prevent us from pointing out its weak points. Criticism is necessary in order to push forward the IN reforms.

Switzerland considers that the role of the UN in the economic and social fields must be redefined. In particular, the links between international security and economic development have to be taken more into account. Relations between the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO are also in need of reappraisal, for instance, by a group of independent eminent persons.

We must also cast a critical eye on the functioning of the UN. With regard to the General Assembly in particular, I note that all too often resolutions are reduced to the smallest common denominator, or to a long list of wishes, but with no real impact. The Assembly needs to be revitalised by reducing the number of points for debate, restricting the length of texts, and by avoiding multiple resolutions on issues that overlap.

With regard to the Security Council, a consensus already exists that its composition no longer sufficiently reflects contemporary geopolitical realities. But there are differences of opinion to redress the problem.

Switzerland supports the idea of enlarging the Council. This could be done without harming its effectiveness as long as the increase in the number of members remains within reasonable bounds.

In the last few years, more opportunities have been given to non-member countries to participate in the Council's work. Switzerland welcomes these efforts.

However, the crucial decisions too often remain confined to the restricted circle of the five permanent members. All members of the Security Council must be permanently involved in the decision-making process. It is also important to institutionalise the modalities of participation for the other member states. For example, the consultation mechanisms with those States most directly affected by the conflict areas should be strengthened. Can we envisage a situation where the elected members of the Security Council feel greater responsibility to represent the views of those who elected them?

The right of veto is a privilege involving special responsibilities. It should only be used in exceptional circumstances.

When a permanent member exercises its right of veto, wouldn't it be desirable if it then explained its action to the General Assembly? In this way, that member would make itself better understood by the international community.

Another aim of the reforms is to open the UN to civil society. Switzerland welcomes the decision of the Secretary-General to set up a panel of experts to examine the possible ways of achieving this end.

It is in this spirit of openness towards civil society that the preparations are being carried out for the World Summit on the Information Society, due to take place in Geneva in December this year. More than half of the world's population does not have access to a telephone. Use of the internet is even more limited. The aim of the Summit is to discuss ways to narrow the digital divide between the rich and poor countries. New technologies must be made available to assist development, human rights, and democracy.

>I invite all member States to participate actively in the Summit. Many Heads of State and Government have announced their intention to attend, which gives me great pleasure. Fellow colleagues of the industrialised countries,

We must assume our responsibilities! I appeal to you not to miss this important appointment. We need a North South dialogue at the highest level. As I have already said, we must keep to our promises. In the last few months, Iraq has brought some international tensions into the open. We must now search together to find solutions for the future. We are all facing the same danger - that of Iraq falling prey to disorder and instability. The UN must be given its place in Iraq and receive a clearer mandate from the Security Council. At the same time progress must be made towards restoring Iraqi sovereignty. Switzerland has a long tradition in its domestic history of harmonious coexistence of different communities. We well understand that there is no single political model that fits all situations. Nevertheless, Switzerland is ready to share its experience and to provide support for the process of drawing up a new constitution in Iraq. Switzerland joined the UN as a neutral country. This does not prevent it from defending the universal values to which it is closely attached.

This it wants to do together with like-minded member States, and using the strengths of the Organisation as a support. At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the UN and all its staff who have just endured a deadly attack in Baghdad. Every day the UN and its specialised agencies are carrying out work in all parts of the world that no other Organisation can do. Mr. Secretary-General, you have spoken of peace as a "dream in suspense". I believe that this also applies to the other ideals for which the UN stands : justice, solidarity, and respect for human dignity. Dreams are an essential part of the vision of the United Nations, but so are action, realism, courage and perseverance.

Thank you for your attention.