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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 04:10 GMT
Swiss welcomed into United Nations
The Swiss ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Francois Nordman, toasts the victory
In at last - Switzerland comes out of the cold
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has welcomed Switzerland's decision to become the 190th member of the organisation.

Mr Annan said the "Yes" vote in a referendum on Sunday was an expression of faith in the UN's ideals.

The "Yes" vote succeeded by a narrow margin, with the support of about 55% of voters and a slender majority of the country's 23 cantons.

Switzerland can no longer stand on the sidelines

Ladina Fuchs
Swiss voter
The referendum, which was promoted by the government, will allow Switzerland to apply for formal UN membership during a session of the General Assembly in September.

This will end a long paradox whereby the UN based some of its crucial institutions in a country which was not even a member.

Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss declared a victory for the whole country, saying Switzerland could now get its concerns debated at the UN and better defend its interests in the international community.

Some Swiss voters said in interviews that the decision had been long overdue.

"I think Switzerland has missed the world's growing together," said Ladina Fuchs from Zurich.

"Switzerland can no longer stand on the sidelines."

Once Switzerland takes up its seat at the UN, the Vatican will be the only state which is not a member of the world body.

Switzerland 'damaged'

Switzerland last voted on UN entry during the Cold War in 1986 when the issue was defeated by 75% of voters.

There were still voices on Sunday warning that Switzerland stood to lose its neutrality.
Christoph Blocher, leader of the opposition to UN entry
Blocher: "Neutrality will at the very least be deeply damaged"

The leader of the opposition to UN entry, billionaire industrialist Christoph Blocher, said the country would be weakened.

"Freedom and the rights of the people will be limited, and neutrality will at the very least be deeply damaged," he said.

After Sunday's vote it looks like the Vatican will be the only world state left not to have full membership of the UN but the casual observer might long have assumed Switzerland was a dedicated member:

  • Geneva is home to an Office of the United Nations - the UN's second largest home after New York
  • Key UN commissioners such as those for human rights and refugees are based in the city
  • Other Swiss-based UN bodies include the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organisation
  • The UN employs 8,000 people directly in Geneva and the lakeside city is full of foreign diplomats on UN business
The BBC's Nick Hawton
"Change is truly on the way"
UN Ambassador to the UN Francois Nordmann
"This is a historic day for Switzerland"
See also:

04 Mar 02 | Europe
Switzerland finds its voice
03 Mar 02 | Europe
Switzerland's UN debate
04 Mar 02 | Europe
Geneva ready for UN embrace
08 Dec 00 | Americas
Swiss government backs UN membership
10 Jun 01 | Europe
Swiss troops to bear arms abroad
19 Sep 01 | Europe
Swiss parliament votes to join UN
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Switzerland
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