In the near future, Vanuatu will establish a permanent representation in Geneva. A corresponding memorandum of understanding, in which Switzerland provides the South Pacific island state with the support required to do so, was signed on 26 October 2013 by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter and Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil in Port Vila. Even though Vanuatu belongs to one of the most rapidly developing regions of the world – the Asia-Pacific region – it has very limited resources at its disposal to make its voice heard at the global level in order to meet the challenges that threaten its very existence. As with the other small South Pacific island states, one of the greatest challenges for Vanuatu is climate change, including the risk of rising sea levels.
In Geneva, Switzerland has an important centre of international environmental and climate policy, which is home to numerous international organisations, including many NGOs. A permanent representation will enable Vanuatu to take part at the multilateral level in developing approaches to solving the problems that threaten its very existence. "And so begins a new chapter", said Mr Burkhalter at the signing of the memorandum of understanding, referring not only to climate change but also to other issues such as food security, water distribution, health and migration.
The rapprochement between the South Pacific islands and Geneva is in keeping with the principle of universality, which the federal council sees as being a vital component of the International Geneva strategy.
Training for young diplomats
Switzerland is supporting Vanuatu in establishing its permanent representation in Geneva with training in the skills required for multilateral discussions. At the University of the South Pacific in Vanuatu's capital, Port-Vila, Federal Councillor Burkhalter presented a project, with which young diplomats from Vanuatu and other small South Pacific island states can acquire the requisite training. True to the regional approach of the project, the presentation by the head of the FDFA was broadcast live to the different island states.
Switzerland is funding the project with CHF 142,000, and it is being implemented by the NGO DiploFoundation. It includes acquiring diplomatic expertise in the areas of the environment and climate, human rights, trade, health, the internet and telecommunications, and humanitarian aid. In an initial phase, an internet-based training module will enable young diplomats from all over the various island states to join the project. This will be followed by a practical module. The ten most outstanding diplomats will then be invited to come to Geneva, where for ten days they will be able to familiarise themselves with the multilateral activities of the international organisations based there.
Switzerland takes part in regional cooperation
A key area of the discussions between Mr Burkhalter and Mr Carcasses Kalosil, and also with Acting President Samson Samsen and Acting Foreign Minister Bob Loughman, was regional cooperation. Through various organisations, such as the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable, the island states discuss common challenges and possible solutions. Switzerland is interested in providing the work of these organisations with long-term support and is for example supporting the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, the most important global conference of the island states, which only takes place once every ten years.
During his stay in Vanuatu, Mr Burkhalter also visited a Red Cross project aimed at improving the situation of young women in rural areas. The objectives of the project are to ensure education for these women beyond primary level, and very importantly to reduce their risk of being subjected to domestic violence. The women also receive information about their rights. Switzerland is contributing CHF 50,000 to the funding of the project.
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