01 October 2003
During the summer conferences in Caux prominent figures delivered a weekly series of public lectures. Some are mentioned elsewhere in this issue but here we report four of them.
ILO chief calls for a shift in priorities
Juan Somavia, the Director General of the International Labour Organization in Geneva, condemned the ‘win at all costs mentality’ as shown by TV screens constantly showing the latest share prices.
There were other figures, he went on, that it would be more profitable to be constantly reminded of: ‘the more than one billion unemployed, under-employed or working poor; the half of humanity struggling to survive on less than $2 a day’. He warned that North and South, rich and poor shared a growing sense of insecurity.
Somavia hailed ‘the transforming power of dialogue’, and called for ‘decent work’ to be placed at the heart of the social agenda. Work was not a commodity like any other, since it directly involved the lives of human beings.
Many, he claimed, say ‘yes’ to a market economy, but ‘no’ to a market society. There was often talk of new values to confront new situations but, he declared, ‘Values don’t need to be re-invented. They need to be applied!’ He believed that ‘the spiritual values of different traditions and cultures have given us a sound basis on which to build better societies: the dignity of the human being, the sanctity of our earth, the need for social justice, the sense of caring and solidarity’.
‘Caux holds a special place in my heart,’ he concluded. ‘Caux is about hope and healing. It is about generating ideas, forging networks, strengthening moral foundations. It is about values and practical action.’
Palestinians and Israelis call for peace
A leading Palestinian intellectual spoke of the start of a people’s movement for peace in Israel and Palestine. Professor Sari Nusseibeh, the President of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, said that many of his people dreamed of going back in both space and time to the pre-1948, pre-disaster world, before the creation of the State of Israel.
‘We cannot control the past,’ he continued, ‘but we can control the future, and we must focus our efforts there.’ The leaders on both sides had proved incapable of leading their peoples towards peace, and of tearing down the idols that stood in the way. ‘Neither of our peoples walk this earth alone. Another group claims the same space, the same rocks and trees, the same history.’
The outlines of a two-state solution had long been clear, addressing the questions of settlements on the one hand, and the refugees’ right to return on the other; a shared capital in Jerusalem; and a special status for the holy sites. But the peoples–on both sides–were never really consulted on what they felt or wanted. So with an Israeli colleague (former navy general and security chief Ami Ayalon), he had started a movement to collect signatures. In only a little over a month they had collected 60,000 and the number was going up all the time.
‘We’ve had a lot of support, but we’ve had a lot of opposition too,’ Nusseibeh said. They dreamed of being able to return to their respective leaders with a million signatures and the plea, ‘deliver us from 50 years of suffering, to a new dimension of sanity’.
Nusseibeh likened the many un-implemented UN resolutions to a tranquillizer given to his people to console them for their political and geographical losses. In his view, the Palestinians could and should forego the right for the refugees to return, in favour of exercising another right–freedom in their own state. ‘In an ideal world,’ he said, ‘these rights would not conflict, but in the real world, we have to forego one in order to obtain the other.’
Conflict resolution needs everyone
Astrid Heiberg, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oslo and a former cabinet minister in Norway spoke of her experience of mediating between the the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government.
Six rounds of negotiations had taken place, facilitated by the Norwegian Government. Currently the talks had broken down, but a fragile ceasefire was holding, and Dr Heiberg hoped ‘to be on the first plane back to Colombo’.
She described a unique sub-committee on gender issues which had been created. Normally, ‘in important questions of peace and war women are excluded,’ she said.
She spoke of the five qualities of ‘real women’ that tended to come in women-only groups: non-competition; promoting of others; sharing; reading of non-verbal signals; and availability. ‘We must use the whole spectrum of humanity in conflict resolution,’ she said.
Heiberg, who has also been President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, went on, ‘The traditional slogan was “If you want peace, prepare for war”.’ But she advocated: ‘If you want to promote peace, you should prepare for peace.’
She believed in ‘transformational politics’ in the place of ‘realpolitik’. This meant support for human dignity, justice and truth, allowing enough time for healing, and learning from other conflict situations. Peace was built step-by-step, and stone by stone, like a happy marriage or a happy family.
Red Cross banks on humanity's good side
‘Human security’ demands a dual approach of ‘striving to abolish war itself’ linked with ‘practical measures to alleviate the sufferings of the victims’ said Angelo Gnaedinger, the Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during the ‘Conflict prevention through human security’ conference.
Gnaedinger, a Swiss and a lawyer by training, has worked with the ICRC since 1984. He noted the tension between ‘optimism and faith in the capacity of mankind to progress towards a world without conflicts’, on the one hand, and humanity’s ‘apparent inability to learn from past experience’ and an anxiety ‘nurtured by the observation that war is still very much a reality’, on the other.
More than 10,000 men and women were working with the ICRC in over 70 countries where there was armed violence, Gnaedinger said.
‘Even in the heart of darkness, in the midst of war, a minimum of “human security” can be preserved,’ he said. ‘The way a war is waged influences the way that peace is built.’ In today’s world, internal armed conflicts far outnumbered international conflicts; ‘humanitarian dialogue may prove to be very difficult’ with the non-state armed groups, who are often called terrorists by those who fight them.
Gnaedinger noted that humanitarian mediation, by a neutral and independent actor, can sometimes help to restore a minimum degree of trust. Too often the international community showed a lack of the political will to act.
Macedonia was an encouraging example where ‘decisive action on the brink of the conflict has so far succeeded in containing the tensions and limiting the number of victims’.