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To speak of Geneva as a city of peace is almost self-evident, so intense are the links between the city – its history and culture – and its universal vocation. In its role as host city to a large number of international organizations, it is known as “International Geneva”. It is the home of many different types of organizations which are active in fields as varied as humanitarian aid, trade, human rights, the environment and sustainable development, training and education, peace-keeping and security, meteorology, intellectual property, nuclear research, health, telecommunications and labour. The international community of Geneva, in the broadest sense, is made up of international organizations (governmental and non-governmental), foreign missions to the organizations and the staff who work for all these bodies.
In 1920 two hundred international diplomats and civil servants were working in Geneva. Today this figure has risen to approx. 42,000, not including some 2,400 employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Geneva and New York, seat of the United Nations Organization (UNO), are the two most important focal points of international co-operation in the world, Geneva leading in the number of conferences it hosts. The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) is the most active centre for multilateral diplomacy in the world and has been the setting of many historic negotiations.
Switzerland has been hosting international organizations for over 100 years. Since the pioneer organizations were set up in Berne in the 19th century (the International Telecommunication Union in 1868, the Universal Postal Union in 1874, the Intergovernmental Organization for International Carriage by Rail in 1893), Geneva has seen the arrival of various organizations established following the First World War (the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization in 1919) plus all those which were founded after 1945, most of them under the aegis of the United Nations. The number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has also grown since the 19th century. Examples of the oldest include the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC, Geneva, 1863), the International Olympic Committee (IOC, Lausanne, 1915) and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU, Geneva, 1950). However, Geneva is not the only city in Switzerland to host international organizations, be they governmental or non-governmental. The shores of Lake Léman are home to the World Conservation Union (IUCN, Gland), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, Gland) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC, Lausanne), to mention but a few examples. Basel is the seat of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) is still based in Berne, along with the Intergovernmental Organization for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF).
Switzerland is host to 35 organizations which have signed headquarters agreement, fiscal agreements or agreements on privileges and immunities with the Swiss Federal Council (for more information, see “Some facts and figures of the International Geneva”).
About 250 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have their seat in Geneva. These include the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and many others.
172 States including Switzerland are represented in Geneva by a permanent mission or representation (to the United Nations Office at Geneva and to other international organizations, to the World Trade Organization-WTO – and/or the Conference on Disarmament -CD).