Michel Camdessus, Former Director General of the International Monetary Fund and Founding Member of the Fondation Chirac at the Award Ceremony for the Prize for Conflict Prevention, at the musée du quai Branly, Paris, Friday, November 5, 2010.
It is difficult to sum up in just a few words the reasons the jury chose to award the Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention to Mario Giro, head of international relations of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome.
Though few non-governmental organizations have managed to avoid all temptation to highlight their own accomplishments and to escape from institutional vanity as has Sant’Egidio, the world has begun to take notice of the community’s humanitarian efforts:
– its commitment to the most destitute in so many large cities across the globe,
– its pioneering work with AIDS victims,
– initiatives such as the BRAVO program in Burkina Faso through which the births of a third of the country’s population (mostly children) has finally been registered,
– its tireless work throughout the world, but especially in Africa, to prevent conflicts and, occasionally to intervene decisively for peace.
Specialists of international relations are openly admiring of Sant’Egidio’s work, which could be considered a unique method of diplomacy. The method is based on choosing the simplest means, on modesty and efforts to be uniquely at the service of other peacemakers, on respectful relationships with each opponent, but with a profound understanding of situations. A method which, in the world of diplomatic subtleties, is based simply on the strength of patient listening, respect, and friendship offered to all. This “soft force” diplomacy is capable of extricating hopelessly bogged down negotiations, reducing the most intractable enmities, bringing back to the table those who had sworn to ignore each other, and in the end, disappearing as soon as governments or international organizations are capable of stepping in.
It was high time that we recognized the men behind Sant’Egidio’s efforts to help so many countries strengthen the chances of peace. These individuals devote the best of themselves, day by day, with the utmost selflessness and discretion.
Your Fondation’s great merit, Mr. President, is having identified and wishing to reward one of the best craftsmen, one of the authors of these miracles of peace, Mr. Mario Giro.
Let us retrace twenty years of commitment, particularly in Africa.
In late 1994, the Algerian crisis had already been raging for three years with 35,000 victims. Mario Giro played a vital role in bringing the main Algerian political leaders to Rome for talks. Once there, they adopted in January 1995 “the platform for a peaceful political solution to the crisis”. It would be rejected by the government but it would inspire further measures aimed at restoring national harmony.
Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa, crises multiplied. Burundi was first, and Mario Giro was involved at the very start of the Arusha negotiation and the resolution of the Burundi crisis.
In 1997, Rome was the theater for the preparation of the Covenant for the future of Albania alongside the main political parties, in particular to define the guarantees of minorities.
Then in 1998, there was mediation for Kosovo between Milosevic, the Serbian, and Rugova, the Kosovar. This resulted in Kosovar Albanians obtaining access to schools, colleges, and universities. This was only possible thanks to Mario Giro’s endless shuttling between Belgrade and Pristina.
Back in Africa, with the beginning of the long crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, Mario Giro would play a key role in mediating for Lomé, once again shuttling between Abidjan and the rebels. This was followed by the Marcoussis negotiations in which Mario was asked to participate, then to facilitate its difficult implementation, and the contacts prior to new meetings in Accra, Pretoria, and finally to “direct dialogue” in Ouagadougou under the aegis of President Compaoré.
In parallel, he was also leading missions in Liberia to contact LURD rebels and the government of Charles Taylor. Mediations followed one after the other and Mario Giro struggled to bring the LURD to the table to eventually sign agreements that would lead at last to elections and peace.
At the same moment, the similar task needed to be accomplished in Darfur. There too, rebels as well as all the Darfur movements, needed to be brought back to the negotiating table. In Togo, during the same years, contacts would lead to the restitution of the passport of the opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio. They also led to the first meetings between the opposition and government. A little later, it would be Uganda. The first contacts with the LRA rebels go back as far as 1996 but it would take ten years before Mario could meet J. Koni, the army’s leader in his hideout for negotiations to finally start between Uganda and the LRA. Sant’Egidio would facilitate meetings in Juba for two years before negotiations were broken off again. Contacts are currently under way for them to resume.
In 2007 in Guinea, Mario Giro initiated mediation between President Lansana Conte and the “Forces Vives” that led to the establishment of a provisional government. Then came the 2009 coup and its ensuing tragedies. President Compaoré was here too appointed mediator and formally requested the assistance of Sant’Egidio. A national union government and a transitional parliament were created. The path was not smooth and it would take a document signed at Sant’Egidio to reach a guaranteed agreement that would ensure elections would not be challenged and would result in a code of conduct. The Appeal, signed in Rome, set the rules for after elections and dealt with the theme of national reconciliation.
Finally, there is Niger’s long-standing political instability. After the February 2010 military coup, a democratic transition is underway and the Community of Sant’Egidio has just gathered the country’s political and social forces for a week in Rome. They have agreed to launch an appeal to support a democratic transition with well-defined steps; the process’s final phase will start in early 2011.
As you see, there is something amazing in this man’s tireless work and courage. Even more admirable is his manner of doing things, as recounted by those who are or were his partners. One hesitates to call it diplomacy, it is friendship at work.
Mario Giro knows that these men in conflict deserve his friendship, simply because they too are men. To offer this friendship, he is ready to go forth and meet them, sometimes even in their remote hide-outs, be they lost in the depths of some forest. He goes bare-handed, with no other force than the confidence that his words will inspire even the most suspicious, by their utter sincerity and limitless patience. His patience understands the most coded languages and decrypts the flattest refusals, knowing that the day will come when a first pebble can be pried off the walls of misunderstanding.
There is not enough time to delve further in search of the secrets of his effectiveness. Let us applaud their results. Through serendipity, they are here before us this month: Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Guinea… Results can also be found in other places around the world where Mario and his team are working in silence, sometimes shaking off failures. However, there are also places where, thanks to them, it is as if an angel’s finger has stilled lips ready to proffer insult, where miracles of friendship and patience are performed, where suddenly men dare gaze upon their enemy with less defiance, where the violence and often simple laziness of history is suddenly contained and conflicts are prevented.
For this ray of hope throughout our world, for the opportunity offered here and there to fraternity, thank you Mario Giro.