Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear young friends,
I am really happy that all of you young people have gathered here in my country. I welcome you and thank you for your engagement for our future. For the next generations, for your children!
You have come here in order to debate. My country likes such debates; they take place everywhere and any time in our direct democracy. All of them are equally important, no matter if they are taking place in villages or in cities, such as Geneva, this “other end of Switzerland”… Geneva: a Swiss contribution for peace, for cooperation and dialogue. Geneva: a support for the UN, a heart for multilateral diplomacy, a home for hundreds of NGOs looking for ideas and actions in our world.
For the duration of this week, the debate in Laax will be enriched by your ideas for our common future. I would like to congratulate the organising committee and all persons involved in planning this event to make this gathering possible. And I am certain that you will find this region to be an inspiring venue to develop “Young and innovative ideas for a sustainable future”, according to this session’s topic.
Indeed, innovative ideas for a sustainable future have been found around here before. For example, over one hundred years ago, a ‘young and innovative idea’ was the railway.
Over many years, an outstanding technical, architectural and environmental rail network with many innovative solutions was established in this region. Impressive bridges and tunnels were built in harmony with the landscape. To this day, the local railway lines create eco-friendly opportunities for young people. For business. For tourism. They have proven to be a truly sustainable answer to numerous local challenges.
For this reason, the railway lines in this canton, the Rhaetian Railway, were included on the UNESCO world heritage list a few years ago. I hope you see this as an inspiration. Maybe the innovative ideas you will be developing here during this session will one day also be included on the UNESCO world heritage list.
Dear young members of parliament,
You have all volunteered to sit as a parliament this week. I commend you for this commitment. A youth parliament is a practical school of citizenship and political culture.
Through your experiences you enrich the debate. Through your beliefs and values you assume a major responsibility for the future. This responsibility is at the very heart of politics.
We all have a responsibility towards our community, our society, our country, our planet. And we all need to work together if we are to meet today’s challenges and spread the benefits of peace, prosperity and security.
We rely on young people, on people just like you, to build tomorrow’s world. A world that is increasingly yours. We rely on your creativity, your energy, your intelligence and your zeal for dialogue and cooperative solutions.
These solutions are particularly needed today. Our world is changing at a fast pace. Globalisation has offered, and still is offering new chances and opportunities to large parts of the planet’s population. But at the same time, an unpredictable multi-polar world has emerged in which there is a great deal of instability and uncertainty.
The status quo is being questioned in many parts of the world – in East Asia (south-China sea), in Europe (Ukraine crisis; tensions between the West and Russia) or in the Middle-East. Geopolitical rivalries are deepening. Terrorist threat is growing. Human rights and humanitarian law are increasingly under stress.
Most of you I assume were born in Europe after the end of the Cold War. The most remarkable shift that has occurred in the past few years are the numerous conflicts on the southern and eastern flanks of our continent. And the number of victims has sharply risen. The most dramatic example is the Syrian civil war. If you had been attending a school in Syria in 2010, before the war started, out of 20 friends, 2 would be dead by now. 8 would have been forced to flee their home. And all except four would have nothing to eat except for what they receive from humanitarian organisations.
Clearly, we are going through difficult times with a great number of challenges. But this realistic outlook is not a reason for pessimism. Quite to the contrary: it is a call to action. The question we should ask ourselves is: how can we change things? How can we address these challenges in order to help those who suffer now from the world’s fragility? How can we transform instability into a sustainable future?
Indeed, a core task of politics is the creation of prospects for young people and for future generations. To contribute to an environment in which you can take your responsibility and put your visions into action.
Or to paraphrase your motto: It is our responsibility to create a sustainable future for young and innovative ideas. To fulfil this task, we as politicians must take measures to better understand the expectations of young people. We must give young people a voice and a stake in politics but also opportunities to assume their responsibility for tomorrow’s world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Three weeks ago, I was in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly. In fact, the atmosphere today in this room reminds me of the UN: people from different cultural backgrounds gathering in order to discuss how to build a better, more sustainable future. Of course, there are different opinions and differing visions about that future, but dialogue is a necessary first step to move forward. And it should be followed by concrete action.
I would like to give you three examples to illustrate how Switzerland contributes to creating a more sustainable world for tomorrow’s generations. How we strive to bring some light in three dark corners of our world: terrorism, violation of human rights and water scarcity.
First, terrorism. Over the last few years, violent extremism has become a tangible challenge to European societies. It targets our core values, our freedom and attacks our very identities. Defending the freedom of their citizens is a key responsibility of liberal states. Like most other European states, Switzerland is stepping up its efforts in this field.
But we should not forget that most victims of terrorism are in fragile countries that lack the means to counter, and, more crucially, to prevent it. I am thinking of the countless victims of the so-called “Islamic State” in Syria, of Boko Haram in Nigeria or of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
As these examples show, it is extremely complex to counter terrorist organisations once they have come into existence. These examples also highlight that terrorism has the potential to destabilise entire regions, destroy countries and slash the hopes and aspirations of millions.
This is why Switzerland’s efforts focus primarily on the prevention of violent extremism. It is crucial to fight the structural conditions that favour terrorism, to help create the conditions leading to lasting peace. Yes, prevention is the capacity of one generation to think of the next and to take action in its favour.
Earlier this year, the Swiss foreign ministry launched an Action Plan on Preventing Violent Extremism. Youth plays a central role in it because young people are often easy prey for the false promises of terrorist recruiters. They are promised prospects and a future that fragile states often cannot offer them. When they realise that instead of prospects, all they get is violence, blood and destruction, it is often too late.
Switzerland is working on the ground to give young people the chance to attend school, get a job, earn a living, be an active part of their society. In short, we want to give them alternatives to violence: a little light in the dark...
For example, one project that Switzerland is supporting in a poorer part of Tunis aims to improve young people's involvement in social and political life. Switzerland is also financing projects in Mali, Nigeria and Bangladesh through an organisation called the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, based in Geneva. The aim is always the same: preventing violent extremism by helping people to feel part of their communities.
Over the last four years, Switzerland has given 300,000 people, mostly young people, the opportunity to receive vocational education and training. We intend to increase these activities together with the private sector, which plays a major role in promoting skills acquisition and creating jobs.
Let me come to my second example, violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Human rights are inalienable rights to which all people are equally entitled simply because they are human beings. They are universal and fundamental. Every state is obliged to respect, protect and implement them. But they have come increasingly under pressure in the past few years. Today, human rights violations are a widespread reality. I am thinking of basic liberties that are at threat such as the freedom of the press or freedom of assembly, or the absolute prohibition of torture or the prohibition of the death penalty.
These violations of human rights destabilise communities and make a sustainable development of societies impossible. They are a factor leading to fragility of countries, putting them more at risk of violent conflict. Human rights violations can be precursors and causes of conflict. Such violations are a warning light that is too often ignored.
For this reason, Switzerland launched in June of this year an appeal to put human fights at the heart of conflict prevention. In order to address the double challenge of human rights violations and conflicts we must become better at preventing conflict and at defending human rights. But violations of international law not only cause conflicts, they also occur in the middle of conflicts: international humanitarian law, the law that regulates the conduct of war, is also coming under increasing pressure. With dramatic consequences.
Humanitarian law is the thin line that marks the difference between war and hell; it defines the minimal conditions that war-waging powers should respect to preserve a little dignity and hope for peace once the weapons fall silent. The more it is violated, the more unlikely it is that lasting peace will be established. Take Syria as an example: most basic rules of humanitarian law have been systematically broken recently in the Syrian war – civilians are killed every single day, hospitals are bombed on a weekly basis, humanitarian aid workers are targeted, prisoners are executed. The war in Yemen would be another tragic example. Where is the light?
Switzerland has been working together with the International Committee of the Red Cross since 2012 to define ways for states to achieve a better compliance with international humanitarian law. The aim would be to institutionalise international humanitarian law by creating a forum of states where they could meet and debate on a regular basis. Switzerland is currently coordinating an intergovernmental process to find an agreement among states on the functions and features of that forum.
The recent, terrible developments on battlefields around the world show the necessity for states to agree quickly on a mechanism to better protect those who suffer most from conflicts. At the same time, working for human rights or for humanitarian law is a generation project: results and effects will not be immediate, but have to be measured in the long term, by the following generations.
Third, water: Laax is not far from the source of the Rhine, one of Europe’s longest rivers. It is hard to believe when one looks at this bubbling river, but on a global scale, water is facing unprecedented challenges. While the world population grew fourfold in the 20th century, freshwater withdrawals grew nine times.
Climate change is adding to the water supply challenge by increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Moreover, water resources are being threatened by pollution.
Switzerland is committed to finding solutions to the water crisis and to improving the lives of people for whom access to clean, safe water remains a daily challenge. Especially in fragile regions, such as Yemen or South Sudan, Switzerland helps ten thousands of people to have access to water. Water that you can drink. Water that is a source of life.
But water is not just a development issue. It is also a security issue.
Water can be a source of tension and instability; it can be related to major security risks. Competition over water can cause or fuel conflicts. Poor governance exacerbates the risk of water-related conflicts.
But water can also be a powerful instrument of cooperation. It can be a vehicle to promote trust. And the Rhine that flows so close from where we are is a reminder for it:
The oldest intergovernmental organisation, the “Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine”, was created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna in an attempt to encourage European cooperation and prosperity. It is this notion of water as a driver for peace and security that is very much at the heart of Swiss diplomacy.
One example from a programme we call ‘Blue Diplomacy’: in the Middle East, water tensions are exacerbated by climate change and local conflicts. Switzerland supports both Turkey and Iraq to rehabilitate and develop a monitoring station on each side of the border to build trust with regard to the use of the Tigris River that flows through both countries: another light in the dark.
Dear young parliamentarians,
You will put your ideas into resolutions; and you will send them to political decision-makers. I encourage you to do more.
When you go back to your country, stay involved in your community – be it on a local, national or international level. The world – our common world – needs your energy. We need your light…