Valentin Zellweger: «Geneva is an operational platform.»

Ambassador Valentin Zellweger under discussion.
Ambassador Valentin Zellweger, head of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN Office in Geneva. © FDFA

Interview with Ambassador Valentin Zellweger, head of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva.

Mr Zellweger, can you give us an idea of how the UN headquarters in New York works together with its sec-ond most important office, which is located in Geneva?

Cooperation between the UN headquarters in New York and the Geneva office is necessarily very close, as these are the two most important UN offices and their functions complement one another. Whereas the UN's political bodies, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, are based and reach their deci-sions in New York, the UN's Geneva office focuses on operational activities. Geneva remains a centre for addressing peace and disarmament issues, as well as human rights and humanitarian affairs. The imple-mentation of the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, is becoming increasingly important. These goals set the framework for global sustainable economic, social and environmental development and are thus of central importance to the UN.

The SDGs are a clear example of the division of tasks between New York and Geneva: the SDGs were mainly defined in New York and are now being further developed and implemented from Geneva. This is why the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has referred to Geneva as an operational platform for the SDGs.


Switzerland wants to step up cooperation between the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN Security Council in New York. Could this initiative also be a model for cooperation in other areas?

Switzerland's initiative is principally based on the observation that large-scale human rights violations often lead to armed conflicts. They are consequently an excellent early warning mechanism. The appeal launched last year by Switzerland, which has garnered the support of over 70 states, therefore aims to strengthen cooperation between the two institutions with chief responsibility for addressing this issue, the Human Rights Council and the Security Council.
This model could certainly also be applied to other areas. For example, we now know that development, peace, security and human rights are closely interlinked and interdependent. This naturally means that the various actors have to work more closely together and coordinate their efforts better. I can therefore easily envision this leading to similar initiatives in other areas.

What makes the Geneva location special? What are its strengths and specificities?

Almost every person on earth is regularly affected by the results of the work carried out in Geneva. For ex-ample, global standards are set here in areas as diverse as health, work, road safety, environmental protec-tion and telecommunications. It's therefore fair to say that practical solutions are being found here in Geneva for major cross-border issues that can no longer be tackled by individual states on their own.

Geneva also remains one of the most important forums for peace talks. Most recently, negotiations have been held here on both Syria and Iran, and also on Cyprus. In an increasingly divided world, this key function is likely to become more, not less, important in the future.

What is Geneva doing to maintain its ability to play a key role in this multilateral world in the future?

Switzerland is a very active host country which is greatly committed to supporting international organisations. In light of the growing competition between locations, it is first of all important to support the construction and renovation of international organisation buildings to ensure that these organisations will permanently stay in Geneva.

But today's challenges can no longer be met by governments and international organisations alone. These are increasingly dependent on cooperation with a wide range of other providers of services and ideas: civil society, the private sector and academic institutions. A case in point is the fight against the HIV virus, where enormous progress has been made worldwide in recent years under the leadership of UNAIDS in Geneva. This would not have been possible without close coordination with other stakeholders.

This multi-stakeholder approach, as it is known, is now well established in Geneva. As a host country, Swit-zerland actively supports this development and is increasingly also promoting independent think tanks and academic institutions which provide a major impetus and contribute significantly to solving problems as they arise.  This applies not only to the debate about major technological innovations such as digitisation but also to the impact of these innovations on our lives. How can internet security be guaranteed in the future? What will our work be like in twenty years' time as a result of robotisation? What consequences will new inventions have for the environment and our health? Geneva is well equipped to begin to address these future challenges today.