Volume 17 Number 5
The Human Face of Security
01 October 2004
Peace is more than the absence of war, discovers Caz Hore-Ruthven.
In an ideal world, everyone should be able to enjoy a general sense of ‘security’—dignity and freedom, personal safety, access to basic services and resources. Sadly, the world is far from ideal, and millions of people suffer and die in appalling circumstances.
In response to this dire situation, people from over 40 countries came to Mountain House in Caux, Switzerland, in August for IofC’s fourth conference on ‘Human security through good governance’, organized under the Agenda for Reconciliation programme. Delegates included diplomats, officials, academics, students and citizens from developed and developing countries. They met in a spirit of kinship, to share experiences, impart knowledge, or simply to listen and learn about how to further the cause of human security. An underlying theme was the need to ‘globalize and personalize responsibility’—bringing issues of development and peace back to the way we live our daily lives and care about what happens to people on the other side of the world.
On the global political stage in the last decade, the concept of security has begun to shift its emphasis from national security to people’s security—their everyday needs and struggles. In 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: ‘Human Security in its broadest sense embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and health care and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and resources to fulfil his or her own potential. Every step in this direction is also a step towards reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and preventing conflict.’
Many speakers gave distressing facts about the terrible poverty, illness, violence and intimidation endured by people all over the globe. Thirty wars are currently raging; 40 million people live with HIV or AIDS; more than 40 per cent of Africans live on less than a dollar a day; and 50 million people fled their homes between 1990 and 2000.
‘Poverty, conflict, political instability, disease and corruption together make the theme of crisis in Africa,’ said Leonora Kyerematen, National Programme Coordinator of Ghana’s National Governance Programme. ‘According to the African Union, conflicts have cost the continent seven million lives and around $250 billion in the last 40 years. In the face of these dire statistics, the archetypal African leader of recent memory has proved incapable of personal restraint. The primary reason for leading is to make a positive difference to the lives of people.’
Eric Laroche, Deputy Director in UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes, reminded us that children suffer particularly in armed conflicts, not only as victims of attack, but also through displacement, loss of family, disability, homelessness and lack of schools and medical care. He gave an impassioned plea for an end to abuse and rape against women and children—something that happens increasingly in modern conflicts.
Some speakers told moving personal stories. Shabibi Shah spoke from the heart about her first-hand experience of insecurity. In 1982 she escaped with her three children over the mountains from Afganistan to Pakistan to rejoin her husband. In 1984 the whole family came to Britain. ‘Refugees are the most vulnerable people on earth,’ she said. ‘They have to be content with being second-class citizens in a foreign land. The forces which push people to leave their countries are not only personal but political. They affect thousands of people whose lives are thrown into confusion, fear, anger and sorrow.’ She described what she was doing to support more recent arrivals.
In his keynote address, Niketu Iralu spoke about the long and gruelling fight for freedom of the Naga people who straddle the border between India and Burma. In the process rifts had opened up between different tribes and clans, and there had also been substantial environmental damage and a tendency for people to turn to drink. In 2001 the Naga Reconciliation process was launched to ‘truthfully examine the ways and areas in which we have hurt others so that the needed changes may begin with us’.
He spoke about the practical benefits of this process of honest dialogue and inner change in his own village, Khonoma. An annual day of healing and apology had been established, beginning with five minutes of silence when each villager listened to his or her conscience. In the last five years, the trapping of birds and animals had been successfully banned. Logging, the collection of wild vegetables for commercial purposes, and the sale of alcohol, betel nut and cigarettes had also been stopped. And a bird sanctuary had been established in the mountains.
‘We can, and must, go far and deep enough in accepting the needed changes in our greed, fear and hate in order to make our fragile, most beautiful planet a common, safe sanctuary for ourselves, our children, and their children,’ said Iralu. ‘The concept of human security has given us a framework to achieve this aim, but all great plans of the UN and governments will get bogged down unless each person realizes what they can do—and does it.’
One of the most moving personal stories of building security through reconciliation came from South Africa. Ginn Fourie’s 23-year-old daughter, Lyndi, was murdered in 1993 in an anti-aparthied attack on a Cape Town restaurant. The man who ordered the attack was Letlapa Mphahlele, who years later was in the media spotlight, promoting his book. Fourie went to one of his book signings and identified herself at the public question time. Mphahlele was deeply moved and offered to meet Fourie in private—and so began a remarkable journey of reconciliation and forgiveness.
‘I did not ask for forgiveness,’ said Mphahlele, ‘but she forgave me. It was the most important gift that one can receive from another human being.’ Fourie explained, ‘It’s not that I don’t feel the great sadness of losing my daughter but forgiving her killer has made it bearable and given me a creative way forward.’
A particularly poignant moment came when Mphahlele invited Fourie to his ceremonial homecoming to his village after 18 years in exile. Fourie was one of only a handful of whites amongst 1,500 blacks, and she was invited to speak—a great honour for anyone. ‘I had sleepless nights over what to say,’ said Fourie, ‘But I was able to say that my ancestors are deeply sorry for 350 years of oppression of your people, first through slavery then through colonialism and finally through the dreaded apartheid. What was fresh in my mind was a saying from René Depestre: “What have we done, we the wretched black people of the earth, for the whites to hate us so? What have we done to weigh so little in their scales?”’ Caux delegates gave Fourie and Mphahlele a standing ovation.
While apartheid is thankfully no longer with us, there are new issues that undermine security—not least the Iraq war, global terrorism and deepening distrust and suspicion between the Muslim world and the West. Dr Farooq Hassan, a legal and human rights expert who has served as advisor to four prime ministers of Pakistan, passionately argued that we should not see the situation as a ‘clash of civilizations’, since this implied that difference is not okay. Instead, he thought the West and the Muslim world could learn from each other. Great religions were responsible for moralizing people, and everyday personal values of ‘common decency’ could help prevent atrocities, and enhance dialogue.
Hassan believed that the root cause of the crisis was civil strife in many Islamic and developing countries—people reacting against their own corrupt and non-democratic regimes. He felt this was overlooked by the mainstream media. ‘We live in a virus-creating laboratory where hatreds are multiplying,’ said the professor, who sees a ‘similarity of purpose’ behind extremist violence, rather than some mysterious super-organization. He particularly decried fake or imported leadership imposed from outside. ‘You cannot create an artificial leadership,’ he warned.
The theme was further developed by Dr Basil Mustafa—an expert in Islamic affairs and the Nelson Mandela Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. He talked about Iraq, where vital institutions and services need developing urgently if human security is to be restored. This is especially true of the education system: about 42 per cent of the population is under 15 years old. ‘Educating young people, providing jobs for the jobless and homes for the homeless should become part of the same package aimed at promoting reconciliation and advancing social and economic revival,’ he said. ‘It is incomprehensible to talk about stabilizing Iraq from a security point of view without addressing the acute problem of unemployment.’
On global terrorism, Mustafa expressed discomfort with the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’. ‘I am a Muslim and I don’t condone any act of terrorism undertaken by anyone in the name of religion. It is morally and professionally wrong [for journalists] to use these kinds of terms. The IRA’s campaign was not called “Catholic terrorism”. I don’t think bringing in any religion is appropriate.’
Mustafa believes Islamic teachings are entirely compatible with participatory governance and responsible decisionmaking—a key issue of the conference. ‘Muslim rulers can only claim legitimacy and gain credibility if they discharge their duty to protect people from hunger, disease and other threats and improve human welfare. NGOs and international bodies like the UN could build on this to encourage Muslim individuals, and those in government, to act in accordance with the values of their faith.’
The need for responsible governance was echoed by many, including Peter Rundell, Director General for Development Policy at the European Commission. He said: ‘An accountable and transparent government is the key basis for economic and human security. When governments are accountable not only through the vote but also through a free media and civic society then they tend to be richer and more secure. The personal stories that we have heard [at this conference] and the costly forgiveness and repentance on which they are built would give anyone hope. But they also remind us that the solutions won’t be quick or easy. Eliminating poverty, transforming conflict, improving governments take time and patience.
‘If triumph, like genius, is 90 per cent perspiration and 10 per cent inspiration, then we still need that 10 per cent, and that may come from time in quiet with God. Most officials I know are very open to fresh wisdom and fresh hope, and politicians usually are too. And we certainly need it.’
The conference heard from some remarkable people and organizations who are making a real difference to human security. The St Egidio Community, which began in Rome, has had tremendous success in curbing AIDS through its DREAM project in Mozambique. The ‘Other Three Rs’ education project (Responsibility, Relationships, Respect) has been so successful in Ghana that it has been adopted in schools across the whole country. Terry Rockerfeller, whose sister died on 11 September 2001, told how she and other relations of victims were campaigning for peace and had visited Afghanistan and Iraq to meet the families of civilians who had been killed by Coalition bombing.
To learn more about certain issues, delegates joined workshops. Among the themes covered were good leadership; how to build trust through honest conversation; the value of asylum seekers as an economic and cultural asset; and dialogue between youth, police and their wider communities. People from indigenous communities from the Arctic to Australia took part in a Global Indigenous Dialogue, which climaxed with a presentation to the whole conference.
On the final day, delegates enjoyed a variety of audio and visual delights, reflections and reminiscences from the week gone by. John Graham from the US left us with a highly charged and personal account of his own remarkable transformation in Vietnam, when he found himself giving an order for his soldiers to shoot on looters. At that moment, he said, he simply didn’t care who would win the war; and he eventually went on to help bring down apartheid in South Africa through his work at the US Department of State. John left us with the message that we can all find meaning in our lives, and like his Giraffe Project, encouraged everyone to stick their necks out for the greater good.
THE POWER of traditional song and dance exploded within a ‘Great Circle of Life’ at Caux on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in August.
Community leaders from Africa, Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, India, Russia, Tibet had been meeting for five days to offer ways of restoring, renewing and sustaining a nourishing relationship with Earth and the Creator and of sharing a sense of common destiny with the whole human family. They considered the changes needed to improve relationships both within and between Indigenous communities, and with those who share traditional territory and modern political, cultural and social environments.
More than 300 million people today are, by UN definition, ‘Indigenous’— living where they have always lived, speaking a unique language within a distinct culture, while being a political minority in their nation state. Their plight and progress is increasingly on the global agenda.
Participants went home to report to their communities and consult about the possibility of establishing an annual dialogue, with wider representation from Indigenous communities around the world.