Speech of Mr Konstantin Obolensky, Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation to the Republic of Uzbekistan

Local news, 14.09.2022

Esteemed fellow ambassadors,

Dear Swiss citizens, partners, guests, and friends,

Thank you for honouring my invitation. This is the first national day celebration that the Embassy of Switzerland organizes since a longer break due to the Corona pandemic. My team and I are very glad to have you here.

Today, we celebrate 731 years since Switzerland was founded as a local defence alliance in 1291. Since the mid-19th century, the modern federal state has been in place, with powers concentrated at cantonal and local levels, and where the citizens can have a final say in all important political matters. 

Switzerland has always been open to the world. Twenty years ago, through a democratic decision by its citizens, Switzerland joined the United Nations. Recognizing its active involvement ever since, the General Assembly elected Switzerland as a member of the UN Security Council for the two years to come. My country is honoured by the trust of the international community. 

Ambassador's Speech
Ambassador's Speech ©FDFA

Let me share with you the 4 priorities for Switzerland’s seat on the Security Council:

1. Building sustainable peace

Switzerland will work to ensure that the Security Council fully assumes its role in preventing conflicts. Switzerland will emphasise respect for human rights, the protection of minorities and the equal participation of women in crisis prevention and peace processes.

2. Protecting civilians

In keeping with its humanitarian tradition, Switzerland will work to strengthen compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law, focussing amongst others on food security and the protection of refugees in conflict zones.

3. Enhancing effectiveness

We are convinced that a Security Council that enjoys broad-based support and has the capacity to take effective action is in the interest of the international community. Switzerland will continue to advocate for greater transparency and accountability, and the inclusion of non-members in the work of the Security Council.

4. Addressing climate security

Climate change and security are closely linked. The consequences of climate change also affect Switzerland's own security. It is therefore our goal to anchor this topic more firmly in the agenda of the Security Council.

Swiss National Day Reception
Swiss National Day Reception ©FDFA

Excellencies, guests,

As a country that believes firmly in multilateralism and in international law, Switzerland condemns Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine in the strongest possible terms.

As a reaction to the aggression, the Swiss Government adopted EU sanctions against Russia and Belarus. Switzerland, as a permanently neutral state, fully complies with the law of neutrality: Switzerland applies the principle of equal treatment in export of weapons and military goods according to international conventions. This means that no war-related goods can be exported from Switzerland to Russia or Ukraine. The neutrality policy furthermore gives the Swiss Government the margin of manoeuvre to take extraordinary measures to respond to violations of elementary norms of international law as experienced in Russia’s aggression. Thus the sanctions.

Let me now turn to our bilateral relations:

A week ago, Uzbekistan celebrated its Independence Day. When, in 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved, my country was quick to recognize the newly independent republics. So, 30 years ago, Switzerland and Uzbekistan established diplomatic relations.

Over the years, our co-operation has intensified. Our political dialogue takes place regularly and the Swiss Foreign Ministry looks forward to welcome its counterparts for a next round in Switzerland soon.

Important bilateral agreements have been put in place. The newest and very important addition is the Restitution-Agreement, signed in Bern three weeks ago. It concerns the modalities for the return of assets that have been definitively forfeited as part of the criminal investigation in connection with Ms. Gulnara Karimova.

This agreement is a milestone in Swiss-Uzbek cooperation. It will shape and strengthen the relations between our two countries in the long term. It ensures that the confiscated assets will be used for the benefit of the population of Uzbekistan, in a transparent and accountable manner. 

The restitution will be implemented through a new United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund to substantially contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals in Uzbekistan. Both countries and the UN will be represented on the Fund's governing bodies. Switzerland will hence continue to be engaged throughout the restitution process.

It is important to all parties that Civil Society Organisations are involved in this endeavour. The Fund will therefore be strengthened with a Civil Society Advisory Committee that is of being established through a consultative process.

It is the first time that such a Fund is used for the return of confiscated assets. I am proud that the Uzbek and the Swiss Governments have managed to create – with the United Nations – an innovative and transparent tool; one that is future-oriented and may inspire other States.

Guests ©FDFA

The economic cooperation between Switzerland and Uzbekistan is mainly in the hands of private companies, and it is them that create the most value added. To discuss open issues, we have an inter-governmental commission on economic matters that meets regularly. With reforms underway and with newly gained freedoms after the most acute years of the pandemic, there is an increasing interest of Swiss companies in the Uzbek market. The Embassy is supporting a Swiss-led business mission to Tashkent to take place in mid-November.

Dear guests,

The Swiss engagement in Central Asia, namely in Uzbekistan started in our voting groups at the WB, IMF and EBRD in the early nineties. 30 years of strong partnership later, I can confirm that the Swiss international cooperation with Uzbekistan remains solid. In the context of important reforms, cooperation was further intensified: The development budget was doubled and Uzbekistan rightly became a priority country for our bilateral cooperation. We are proud that, in close partnership with responsible Ministries, multilateral and bilateral partners, we have been able to contribute in various areas.

Let me share some highlights:

Water: Thanks to a strong partnership with the MoWR throughout the last 20 years, Switzerland is playing a key role in the water reform process. The focus lies on integrated and equitable water management and water saving technologies. Given the increasing scarcity of water due to climate change and growing demand – this is essential for the future of Uzbekistan. The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme providing thousands of rural communities with access to safe drinking water was so successful that the “Swiss model” is now scaled up country-wide.

Vocational education and training: The Swiss support for the vocational education reform aims at job creation that matches the need of the labour market. With 600’000 young people entering the labour market annually, skills development is urgently needed. Switzerland contributes with its long-standing expertise.

Furthermore, Switzerland actively contributed to the successful eradication of forced labour in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan through a project by WB/ILO: Within 5 years, the proportion of forced and child labour was reduced from 14% to 1%. I am convinced that this result is exemplary for the enormous potential of the reform agenda. 

Playing Swiss Music
Playing Swiss Music ©FDFA

All these goals that the Embassy of Switzerland is working on need strong partners from the Government of Uzbekistan, from the private sector, from development partners, from art and academia and from Civil Society Organisations at large. I take this opportunity to thank them all, i.e. to thank you all, for the commitment. My colleagues and I look forward to our co-operation in the coming year.

With this, I would like to propose to your Excellency a toast to the wellbeing of Switzerland and of Uzbekistan!