Speech by the President of the Swiss Confederation Johann Schneider-Ammann made in the high-level week of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York

New York, 20.09.2016 - Check against delivery

Mr President of the General Assembly,
Mr Secretary-General,
Heads of state and government,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On 26 July in Abu Dhabi, the Swiss solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse completed its round the world flight. On the same day, as the entire planet hailed this triumph of technology, the International Organization for Migration confirmed that since the start of 2016 more than 3,000 migrants had lost their lives in the Mediterranean. Once again we see how human beings are capable of achieving both the best and the worst. Excellence and innovation to protect the environment, but also impotence and a certain inertia when faced with the terrible tragedies that result from dictatorship, misery and war.

The challenges facing the international community are formidable. The situation in the Middle East, in certain regions of Africa, and on Europe’s doorstep are each tragic examples. The breakdown of states, economies and societies gives rise to outbreaks of radicalisation, which can lead to terrorism and armed conflict, which in turn results in casualties, refugees and the internally displaced. The consequences affect us all.

Other threats are ever-present, such as those posed by natural disasters, climate change and its consequences or even antimicrobial resistance. Economic crises, and the vicious circle of unemployment, vulnerability and exclusion which they bring, are a concern for decision-makers around the globe.

Given the magnitude of these challenges, a strong United Nations is more necessary than ever. The UN has already proven what it can do. Its tireless efforts to mobilise the international community through various action programmes extends the vital effects of global economic liberalisation. Over the past 20 years, the UN has in this way contributed to reducing the world’s poor by half and increasing average life expectancy. Thanks to the impetus that the United Nations has given, levels of education around the globe have improved. The involvement of the private sector and civil society in global government is constantly on the rise. Other hopeful signs include the recent peace accord in Colombia. Switzerland, depositary for the accord, wishes to congratulate all the parties involved in this vital step down the road to sustainable peace.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, our generation is the first that has not experienced a world war. The UN has made a crucial contribution to this achievement, even though it must be conceded that there are still too many regional conflicts, which give rise to too many casualties. Through its universality, the UN enjoys a unique legitimacy. Its position entails considerable responsibility as initiatives, accords and processes multiply. A new global vision is taking shape and each and every state takes part in it.

One of its cornerstones is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It constitutes the common frame of reference for devising sustainable solutions. It forms the basis for a new social contract between political leaders and their citizens.

The Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to limit global warning, is clear evidence of the commitment shown by states. The recent decision taken by the United States and China to ratify the agreement is a major step towards ensuring its success. The first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, which has enabled us to devise solutions to help populations affected by crises and disasters, is further proof of our international solidarity. In addition, the reviews of the United Nations peace and security architecture that we have just completed have highlighted the importance of preventing conflicts.

This year we celebrate ten years of the Human Rights Council. It makes a major contribution to promoting and safeguarding human rights. What is now needed is to go one step further, by consolidating the results of its activities on the ground. The appeal of June 13th, - launched by Switzerland and now supported by 70 states – proposes to improve efforts to prevent conflicts by including the human rights dimension more systematically in such activities. The aim in particular is to reinforce the links between the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. 

In recent years, we have equipped ourselves with valuable tools to build a better world. Now is the time to use them. With this in mind, allow me to express our utmost gratitude to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose decade of tireless work has enabled the United Nations to achieve considerable progress. We are convinced that his successor will continue the work of reform and consolidation at the UN.

Our approach in this crucial phase must rest on the principles that we hold dear, as Swiss: inclusion and participation. I am convinced that by acting together, we can achieve Agenda 2030. Switzerland was one of the first countries to present its national measures to implement Agenda 2030. It is determined to honour its commitment.

I am firmly convinced of the importance of a healthy economy for the achievement of the goals that we set ourselves. Promoting sustainable economic growth means supporting societies that offer fair chances to all their members. A prosperous economy is a vital objective, because it is an excellent vehicle for improving the prospects of all citizens. A prosperous economy makes it easier for young people, women and older people to find work. Here I see clear consistency with the commitment shown by the UN. For a dynamic economy that guarantees jobs and prospects is a vital factor in preventing lapses into terrorism and armed conflict.

In Switzerland, we have identified three key elements that help a country to remain at the forefront in terms of innovation and competitiveness:

  1. First: an effective education system that takes account of the needs of the real economy and of basic research. In Switzerland, both the university sector and the vocational sector enjoy the same levels of attention and support. An apprenticeship in a company, supplemented by studying the relevant theory at a vocational college, plays a key role in this system. 
  2. Second: our liberal employment legislation allows businesses to evolve with the markets, to participate in and contribute to technological progress and to introduce innovative products and methods with ease. The flexibility of our economy thus becomes the best guarantee of employment.
  3. Third: an efficient and respected social partnership guarantees peaceful industrial relations. Regular talks between employer and employee representatives ensure working practices that are adapted to industry and regional needs and accepted by all.

But these key elements cannot be entirely effective without international exchanges. These exchanges encourage competition, scientific and technical advances, and innovation. And never forget that the freedom expressed in democracy and protected by the rule of law offers the best guarantee that a society will achieve its full economic, academic and cultural potential. 

We must also respond to the challenges linked to globalisation in the digital domain. Not simply in terms of transparency, data security and equal opportunities. But also with a view to making technical, social, political and economic progress. In an open and democratic society, people must be able to use digital technologies in an informed and safe way. But we must also do everything we can to ensure that the new opportunities offered by digitalisation make it easier and not harder to find employment.

It is easy to predict which jobs will disappear as a result of digitalisation. But that is not what is important. The real challenge is to identify the new jobs that digitalisation will create. For it is only by so doing that we can provide the training that will allow as many people as possible to find a job in tomorrow’s world. To succeed in doing that, we must maintain a dialogue with the most innovative companies. The UN and its specialized agencies can help to ensure that every country can seize the opportunities offered by technological advances.

Speaking about the challenges that the UN and the international community face brings us naturally to international Geneva. Switzerland is committed to enhancing the value of this centre of global governance. Not simply by supporting the modernisation of its buildings and infrastructure, but by strengthening the synergies between the various players in international Geneva, whether in the field of global health policy or that of humanitarian action.

The initiatives launched in Geneva in recent months, namely:

  • the appeal of June 13th;
  • setting up the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace;  
  • organising the Conference on preventing violent extremism;
  • and the peace talks that have been held;

all testify to the importance of international Geneva and Switzerland’s commitment. Geneva is useful to the world and we will continue to develop its potential.

I am strongly convinced that the only viable response to our current challenges is to seek collective solutions in a spirit of solidarity. To achieve these solutions, the international community needs a strong, modern and effective United Nations. The path has been laid, it is our duty now to support the UN with clear-sightedness and determination.

Thank you.


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Last modification 03.10.2018

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