Ban hails Switzerland's 10-year UN membership
UN chief Ban Ki-moon hailed Switzerland as a champion of human rights as he visited Bern on Tuesday to celebrate the country's 10-year anniversary of its membership in the world body.
"During the short period of 10 years, you have made your mark in so many ways," Ban said in an address to the federal parliament, a decade after Switzerland voted in a referendum to become the 190th member nation of the UN.
He congratulated Switzerland in all four of its official languages -- French, German, Italian and Romansh, drawing thunderous applause from the packed national council.
Ban hailed the small country of nearly eight million people for, among other things, being "such a champion in protecting human rights", saying Switzerland was "forever linked with two of the world's greatest symbols of compassion" -- the Geneva Convention and the Sign of the Red Cross.
On March 3, 2002, 54.6 percent of the electorate voted in favour of joining the world body, despite fears voiced by some that the move might jeopardise the country's cherished neutrality.
The UN General Assembly then welcomed Switzerland into the fold on September 10 of that year.
Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said his country's "neutral status at the heart of the UN has allowed it to preserve its autonomy".
During the past decade, Switzerland had "strengthened its sovereignty and its international recognition," he said in a statement.
The UN secretary general said "it would be a mistake to interpret (Switzerland's) famed impartiality as indifference", instead lauding the country for its "passion for compassion".
During a ceremony in Geneva on Monday, Burkhalter gave the UN chief an unusual gift to mark the anniversary: 10 productive beehives decked out in the red and white of the Swiss flag and named after UN objectives such as "Peace", "Human Rights," and "Environment".
The beehives, placed in the lush park surrounding the UN's European headquarters in Geneva, are part of a plan to produce up to 700 kilos (over 1,500 pounds) of honey by next year.
Ban said he was thrilled by the gift, which also was an incitement to halt the disastrous decline in bee colonies in many parts of the world.
"On this 10th anniversary of Switzerland's membership in the United Nations, let us celebrate the country's enormous contribution to a better -- and sweeter -- world," he said.
© 2012 AFP