All The Europe Center Multimedia

Switzerland in the United Nations: A Five-Year Report Card

  • Peter Maurer

Peter Maurer is Switzerland's first Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, assuming the position in September 2004, when Switzerland became the body's 190th member. He was a leader of the ultimately successful effort to establish the Human Rights Council in early 2006.

Maurer studied history, political science and international law at universities in Berne and Perugia, obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Berne in 1983. After lecturing at the university's Institute for Contemporary History, he joined Switzerland diplomatic service in 1987. He was immediately posted to Switzerland's embassy in South Africa. There he witnessed the violent last throes of the Botha regime, and the first steps towards reforming and ultimately eliminating apartheid.

Maurer returned to Switzerland and became Secretary to the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In 1996 he was posted to New York where he served as Deputy Permanent Observer of the Swiss Mission to the UN. In May 2000 he assumed the rank of Ambassador and returned to Berne to become head of Political Affairs Division IV (Human Security). In that capacity, Maurer managed Switzerland's increasingly robust and innovative human rights diplomacy, launching, among other initiatives, the Berne process, a grouping of countries engaged in human rights dialogues with China.

Ambassador Maurer will talk about the UN Human Rights Council, of which Switzerland was in the forefront of creating. He will address questions related to Europe: how European human rights and security issues are being treated within the UN, and will attempt to answer the question of why the Swiss people have embraced the UN but have been reluctant to join the European Union.

Sponsored by Forum on Contemporary Europe and Stanford Law School.


Event Synopsis:

Ambassador Maurer describes Switzerland's decision to join the United Nations and outlines the achievements it has made in the 5 years since gaining membership. These achievements encompass a broad human security agenda and include developing mine detection technology, combatting small arms dealing, improving natural disaster preparedness, and promoting accountability for crimes against humanity and for the actions of UN peacekeeping troops. Switzerland was a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court and has pushed for improvements to the UN's mediation processes. It has also shaped discussion about the reform of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Ambassador Maurer then offers prospects for issues such as engagement with North Korea, trans-regional alliances on issues of human rights, and the future of the Human Rights Council. He also describes recent cooperation with China and Russia on the topic of human rights. Moving forward, Ambassador Maurer believes Switzerland's best option for making its voice heard on the international stage will be to expand existing partnerships with European universities and to mobilize applied scientific research to help solve the world's most pressing issues.

A discussion session following the talk raised such issues as: What is Switzerland's approach to the areas of the world, for example those under Sharia law, where international human rights are not a common value? How will the western and non-western parts of the world bridge their very different approaches to human rights? Can cultural influence be more effective than formal multilateral institutions like the UN on certain issues? Should existing organizations like the ICRC deal with refugees from environmental degradation (like rising sea levels)? Is there conflict between different international organizations who deal with the same agenda items, such as between the EU and UN?