(Video in French)
Friday, November 5, 2010, President Jacques Chirac and the Prize Jury recognized Mr. Mario Giro and Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi at the musée du quai Branly.
– Mr. Mario Giro, received the Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention for his work within the Community of Sant’ Egidio
– Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, received the Special Jury Prize for his work in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Mr. President Jacques Chirac,
Madame President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri
Distinguished Members of the Jury
Imam Sheikh Mohammed Ashafa, Pastor James Wuye
Distinguished Members of the Board of the Fondation Chirac,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great humility that I receive this award from your hands, Madame President and my first duty is to express my heartfelt gratitude to President Jacques Chirac and the members of the jury, and to all those who, along with them, deemed me worthy of this distinction.
Warmest congratulations to you, Mario Giro for the Fondation Chirac Prize. I am very familiar with the outstanding work carried out – with such patience and discretion – by the Community of Sant’Egidio to help end the civil war that ravaged Mozambique for so long. I learned of your organization’s work notably from my former colleague and friend Aldo Ajello, who is present here today. He was entrusted with the formidable responsibility of implementing peace agreements in Mozambique. He acquitted himself with the finesse, determination, energy, patience, and tenacity for which he is known. He also demonstrated exemplary creativity that earned him the admiration of all.
May this recognition, so richly deserved, Mr. Giro, encourage Sant’Egidio and yourself, to continue in Africa and elsewhere the work you started so well in Mozambique 25 years ago.
As for me, during the missions that have led to my presence here today, I have never been alone. First and foremost, there have been those who trusted me and offered their support and encouragement – in particular, and in chronological order, the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, the late King Hassan of Morocco, the former Algerian President Chadli Benjedid, the former Secretary General of the League of Arab States Kelibi Chadli, and the former United Nations Secretary Generals Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan.
Then there were those who accompanied me in the midst of various conflicts. These men and women shared with me the doubts, frustrations, and risks that face us all during such missions. These comrades are too numerous to name but please allow me to extend my warmest and most fraternal recognition to them all.
Among them, there was a particular team of French police officers in Afghanistan, whose members, under your personal initiative, Mr. President, were assigned to my protection and who rotated throughout two years. They too shared with me both the highs and the lows.
This is also an opportunity for me to express the depth of my gratitude, Mr. President, for the interest you have often shown in my efforts for Peace, for the support you have offered, and the encouragement you have given.
I remember with particular pride the honor you bestowed on me in September 2000 in New York at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations. You invited me to present, to the Heads of States of Francophone countries, the Report of the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions Task Force that I had chaired. You must certainly recall that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had chosen this opportunity to attend for the first time a meeting on Francophonie.
And who could forget your strong and immediate support for Kofi Annan’s initiative, taken in February 1998, to visit Baghdad to defuse one of the many crises between the Iraqi government and the United States and Great Britain? The mission was qualified at the time as “high-risk”. While others preferred to wait cautiously to rescue victory once the mission had been proven successful, you met with Kofi Annan and myself while we were on our way out. You even generously put the presidential plane at our disposal. Therein was prevention in its fullest definition. The Iraqi Government acceded to the demands of the Security Council and new bombings of Iraq were prevented. The UN staff was aware of the importance of the mission and spontaneously, everybody came down to welcome Kofi Annan triumphantly upon his return to New York.
Alas, a few months later, Anglo-American bombings started up again. Kofi Annan stated that, “this is a sad day for the UN and a sad day for the world.”
We were able to measure the extent of the sadness in March 2003 when the U.S. took the immense responsibility to attack, conquer, and occupy Iraq by citing excuses that the entire world knew to be misleading.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Much has been made in recent years of conflict prevention. The importance of preventing conflicts from exploding or erupting once again has been highlighted everywhere. We all know that it is better to be safe than sorry.
There are of course no magic formulae here. However, the international community has acquired a rich experience and learned valuable lessons from its successes and even more so from its failures. The most prominent lesson of all is that in today’s world, the most serious threats facing humanity as a whole no longer come from tensions between wealthy, over armed, major powers. The end of the cold war settled most of those problems.
Admittedly, the often spectacular economic progress in Asia has yet to find the desired echo in the settlement of territorial disputes: the China Sea, for example, between Japan and Russia, along the border between China and India, or in Kashmir.
Today however, there are conflicts that start off as highly localized issues, generally in very poor countries. They then spread by degrees and eventually threaten entire regions and even humanity as a whole.
We are all aware today that the collapse of State power in the small nation of Liberia is at least partially responsible for the horrors in Sierra Leone several years ago, the costly upheavals in Cote d’Ivoire, and Guinea’s current difficulties.
We know that Afghanistan, because of the conflicts that continue to ravage it, now supplies nearly 90% of the world’s opium production and more than 80% of the heroin that is sold illegally in European cities.
And we all know that the occupation of Palestinian territories, discrimination, humiliation, collective punishment – in short, the denial of justice of any sort – fuels tensions that periodically inflame the Middle East and threaten the world. I was in Gaza two weeks ago. I saw much suffering. But those who imagine that the Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere will give up their struggle for their dignity and their rights are dangerously mistaken.
Poverty, bad governance, and corruption combine in many cases to cause conflicts. Conflicts then exacerbate poverty, bad governance, and corruption. This creates a vicious cycle that inexorably overflows borders and contaminates other communities in a thousand different ways – sometimes unexpectedly – as is the case for the extraordinary phenomenon of piracy that has grown amid the anarchy and deprivation in Somalia.
The problems are known, Mr. President. You have very clearly identified them yourself in several of your speeches, including at the launch of your Foundation.
However, the international community, be it at the UN level or that of regional organizations, has yet to mobilize a shared political will. This alone can elevate the conflict prevention to a future level that could more effectively safeguard communities, states and even entire regions from the scourge of devastating conflicts.
In the meantime we must continue to use all available means, and there many, to manage the possible sources of conflict. And when we arrive too late, we must try to create conditions that will allow for the resolution of the conflict as soon as possible.
This, I believe, is what Sant’ Egidio tries to accomplish with great success. This is also what, more modestly, many NGOs are trying to do, more indirectly but just as usefully. I was particularly interested recently by the story of the Association de Solidarité Goëllo-Burkina, a small local NGO that has been working for the past dozen years in the village of Saint-Quay-Portrieux (population: 3400) in French Brittany. Created after the encounter between a French couple and a Catholic priest in Africa, the NGO works in the city of Koudougou (Burkina Faso) to help girls of modest circumstances remain in school.
Multiplying such initiatives in countries at risk means helping the citizens of today and tomorrow take charge of their own future, to contribute to the economic, social and political development within their community, and thereby promote and preserve peace in their country.