The new session of the U.N. General Assembly opened in New York Tuesday, with one of its first official acts the admission of Switzerland as the 190th member of the world organization.
The 57th annual meeting of the General Assembly is taking place in the shadow of international terrorism, as the world observes the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States. The new president of the assembly, former Czech dissident Jan Kavan, now the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of the Czech Republic, noted the primacy of the counter-terrorism effort.
"As we commemorate the tragic events of September 11, 2001, we must remain focused on the fight against international terrorism and uphold our international coalition," he said. "The strenghtening of United Nations instruments, including the set of international treaties combating terrorism, should be central to the efforts of the international community."
While national leaders over the next two weeks are likely to talk about what their governments are doing to cripple support for terrorist groups, the al-Qaida network in particular, the world body took a moment at its opening session for a celebration. Switzerland, after decades of resisting membership, formally joined the organization.
With a salute to Switzerland's traditional neutrality, Swiss president Kaspar Villiger said his country's continuing adherence to that principle does not mean a neutral position on crime or terrorism.
"This is why Switzerland, following the events of September 11, has redoubled its efforts in the fight and in international cooperation," he said. "We are acting on our conviction, which is deeply rooted in our culture, that attacks against freedom, democracy and human rights must not be allowed to win."
The square Swiss flag, with a white cross on a red background, was raised in a formal ceremony at U.N. headquarters, alongside 189 others.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan presided.
"The Swiss are here. We have been waiting for them for a long time," he said. "Today is a day of celebration not only for the Swiss Confederation but for the entire family of nations."
In the course of its 57th session, the General Assembly will turn to scores of perennial issues. U.N. officials and many governments believe part of the fight against terrorism is to address the problems of world poverty and development. They maintain that people living without hope provide a fertile breeding ground for terrorism.