Peace – Living It. The 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates
[12 Dec 2014]
ROME: When His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived early at the venue of the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the Auditorium Parco della Musica, this morning, he found that many of his fellow laureates were yet to come. He met first with the Mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, and then greeted old friends like Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire and new friends like Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman as they arrived.
In the auditorium, the Mayor of Rome pointed out that this meeting was dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela, who, he recalled, was made an honorary citizen of Rome in 1987, while he was still imprisoned. He quoted Mandela’s saying, “A winner is simply a dreamer who never gave up.” Despite years of suffering, Mandela was not resentful, instead he advised, “The time for healing has come.”
The Mayor, Prof Marino, urged those attending the summit to aim for the globalization of human rights, ensuring that the younger generation will be naturally committed to working for peace. He asked everyone present also to remember this year’s laureates, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. He repeated Nelson Mandela’s maxim, “Freedom without peace is not true freedom.”
Co-chair of the summit and former Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, made some remarks before Mairead Maguire came to the lectern on behalf of the assembled Peace Laureates. She said that peace is a human right for everyone and that it is a necessary precondition of all the other human rights. She clarified that everyone has a right not to be killed and a responsibility not to kill. She expressed a wish to address a message to His Holiness the Pope to replace the theory of ‘a just war’ with a theory of peace, quoting His Holiness the Dalai Lama as saying that violence is always wrong and never justified.
Prof David Ives, Executive Director of Albert Schweitzer Institute told the gathering that although the proposed meeting in Capetown had been cancelled, the Institute had taken a group of students there to engage in a dialogue about diversity within global unity. He said that in so doing they had stood by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He invited student representatives to report some of their experiences.
The first session of discussions, focussed on ‘Living Peace, Living Democracy – Reflecting on 20 years of democracy in South Africa: goals achieved and continuing challenges’ began with moderator Peter Popham, a veteran journalist with the Independent, introducing the panellists. They were Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, Lord David Trimble from Northern Ireland, Jody Williams from the USA, Mayor of Capetown Patricia de Lille and, representing Amnesty International, Colm O Cuanachain. Popham recalled that Nelson Mandela eventually found that the peaceful way was what would be most effective. He invited Patricia de Lille, as the only South African able to attend the meeting, to give a picture of how South Africa has changed.
She began by apologising on behalf of the people of South Africa for the behaviour of their government that had led to the summit’s venue being moved to Rome. She noted that the world lost Nelson Mandela one year and one week ago. He had led his country to a peaceful transition. She affirmed that there is no peace without justice and looked forward to working to preserve those things that Mandela had worked for.
Lord David Trimble told the meeting of Mandela’s contribution to peace in Northern Ireland in inviting representatives to South Africa. Amongst other things he showed them that decision making could be based on sufficient consensus. He pointed out that when he became President of South Africa, Mandela discovered that the previous government had a nearly completed nuclear weapons programme, which he promptly dismantled. He said that another country that was a nuclear state when it achieved independence and then dismantled its nuclear defences was Ukraine. Surrounding countries offered support and guarantees of security as a result that have yet to be met.
Of her experience in Liberia, Leymah Gbowee told the audience that she had been angry with the situation. She likened anger to a liquid that can be poured into a non-violent vessel as His Holiness has done or into a violent one with the result that you end up in jail like Charles Taylor. However, she said she’d learned that when you’re angry, you should first take a step back. She explained how during the peace negotiations in Liberia, she and her women companions sat down outside the negotiating hall saying that they would not allow the Liberian delegates to leave until they reached an agreement.
Jody Williams talked about bringing NGOs together to campaign for an end to anti-personnel landmines. She said it was the campaign that changed the situation not her. It was a case of civil society pressuring governments to do what they should. She said that governments will fight back to retain their power. She recalled that when President Clinton called President Mandela to ask him to support the US government position, Mandela refused, saying that he had instead to stand by his African brothers and sisters who were victims of such weapons. She contrasted his courage and principle to those who had given in to Chinese pressure. She noted that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader and said:
“There is a spiritual leader in this town who is apparently reluctant to upset the Chinese by meeting another spiritual leader. What does that say?”
She said that some people, some governments, have the courage to stand up and say what may be uncomfortable, and thanked the government of Rome for showing such courage.
Mayor de Lille added that one of the great qualities Mandela had brought to South Africa was tolerance; he taught people to be tolerant and to respect one another. She extended a fresh invitation to His Holiness to visit her country. When Peter Popham asked her to offer advice to young people, she replied:
“If you can distinguish right from wrong and are able to speak out and act on it, you’ll be a successful leader.”
In a similar vein Lord Trimble said that in the end it comes down balancing diverse interests and that that is actually what the old-fashioned business of politics is about. For Amnesty International Colm O Cuanachain recommended taking action and standing by your principles. He mentioned that the first country at the UN to criticize the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa had been Burma. When a similar tragedy took place later in Burma, South Africa, then on the Security Council, avoided censuring it. He said it is necessary to hold governments to account to protect rights and democracy.
Between the first and second session a message of blessings from the Holy See was read to the assembly.
The second session, focussing on ‘Living Peace for Human Development – Threats to Sustainable Human Development’ was moderated by Yalda Hakim, correspondent with BBC World. She began by inviting His Holiness to explain how peace is more than an absence of war. He began by saying that he felt the other Peace Laureates were more experienced than he was, but stated:
“Peace or violence is ultimately related to our emotions. The demarcation between violence and non-violence lies here in the heart. If we have genuine concern for others, then naturally we defend their rights and our actions become non-violent. So long as we are motivated by anger and fear, the opposite will be true. Fundamentally all 7 billion human beings are the same, so we need to develop a sense of the oneness of all human beings. Too often we focus on secondary and superficial differences like nationality, race, colour, whether we are rich or poor, educated on uneducated and so on, rather than on what we have in common.
“We can change our way of thinking by changing our education system. At present the education system and our way of life are very materialistic with little attention paid to inner values. When we want to think of inner values or moral principles we turn to religion. But that won’t satisfy everyone. 1 billion people today claim not to have any religious faith and even among those who say they do are many whose faith is corrupt or not really serious. Therefore, I suggest we need a secular approach to promoting basic human values. I use the word secular in the sense it is used in India to mean unbiased respect for all religions and faiths and even for those who have none.
“Because, as I said, values are related to our emotions, just as we practise physical hygiene to preserve our physical health, we need to observe emotional hygiene to preserve a healthy mind and attitudes. There is evidence meanwhile that anger and fear damage our immune system. Fear is the source of many of our problems and the counter to that is trust, the basis of friendship. As social animals we need to depend on others, so we need to train our mind and emotions.”
His Holiness drew attention to a distinction between the 20th century generations, whose century is gone, and the 21st century generation, who are young today. He said we can’t change the past, but we can shape the future. So the 21st century generation have the opportunity and responsibility to build a better world. He said that if they start now, maybe in the later years of this century the world will be a more peaceful place. Again, he counselled taking a secular approach based on common sense, common experience and scientific evidence. He said we can change ourselves, our way of thinking and our engagement with the world through consistent education. He concluded with a request not to dismiss his words as mere idealism, but to take them seriously as having practical potential, saying that there isn’t another way.
Yalda Hakim asked Jose Ramos-Horta about sustainable development. He replied that in East Timor, in the ‘70s they were only 700,000 people but didn’t give up. They also didn’t demonize the Indonesians as oppressors, as Muslims, so now excellent relations exist between them.
Tawakkol Karman fervently explained that peace means ending poverty, protection for women and girls and the provision of clean water. Peace means putting an end to corruption. It means giving everyone the right to information. Peace means equal citizenship for all, deep equality. She urged others to support people struggling for their rights. About the crisis in Syria and Iraq, she asked why the situation is like this. Because we didn’t listen to the people who were fighting for freedom. She said you have to pay a price for freedom, but the result will come.
When Yalda Hakim asked if there should be compromise with dictators, Ramos-Horta said, “Better ask His Holiness.” He replied:
“Both sides in a conflict are human beings, and the problems they face are the result of short-sightedness. The troubles in Iraq and Syria are symptoms of past mistakes and will be difficult to resolve. However, these are human problems that need to be solved by taking a human approach, by employing dialogue. If we sat together with those involved in violence and asked them if they were really fulfilling their aims, I think they will be able to see that employing violence is the wrong way to try to solve problems. One solution is to improve our education system; another is for more women to take responsibility as leaders. If more of the nearly 200 countries of the world were led by women, the world would be a more peaceful place, wouldn’t it?”
Ramos-Horta added that in struggling for your rights it is important to use your brain. He advised neither overestimating your own abilities, nor underestimating your opponent. He recalled that the 8 year Iran-Iraq conflict ended not so much because of any intervention, but because the two sides were exhausted. He fears this is what will happen in Syria.
As His Holiness left for a meeting with HE Mrs Laura Boldrini, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament, the Peace Summit Medal for Social Activism was awarded to Tareke Brhane for his work to raise awareness of refugee issues in Italy.
Mrs Boldrini invited the Nobel Laureates to lunch. She welcomed them and Tawakkol Karman offered some words of inspiration, concluding that it is time to think of a new nationality called ‘humanity’.
Back at his hotel His Holiness gave an interview to Franco de Mare of RAI television. He began by asking whether it wasn’t strange that His Holiness the Pope was unable to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
“I feel a little sad,” His Holiness replied, “because I have paid my respects to several other new Popes and I have been eager to meet him. But for now it’s inconvenient, which is understandable. I don’t want to make things more inconvenient. We share an interest in moral values, religious harmony, peace and the relief of the poor. I admire him – that’s all.”
De Mare asked if in giving in to Chinese pressure to deny His Holiness a visa the South African government had put business before values. His Holiness responded that under a materialistic outlook a priority is placed on money. However, money is no guarantor of inner peace. When Archbishop Tutu invited him to his 80th birthday party, he wanted to go. He was also eager to see Nelson Mandela again, but he was unable to obtain a visa.
“The whole world knows I’m not seeking independence for Tibet. We are asking the Chinese government to implement certain rights already mentioned in their constitution. We have a right to preserve our rich Buddhist culture and our language, while protecting our environment.”
About the gap between rich and poor, His Holiness explained that both rich and poor must work to close it. The rich should give encouragement and provided facilities and opportunities, but the poor must make an effort and build their confidence. Asked what he most missed about Tibet, His Holiness said he considers himself a citizen of the world and as the Tibetan saying goes: “Wherever you experience kindness you can think of as home.” He said that freedom and the opportunity to exercise your human creativity were very important. Finally, he remarked that during the monsoon in India, he does sometimes think back to the pleasant atmosphere at that time in Lhasa. Lastly, de Mare wanted to know what His Holiness most appreciated about Italy and he said:
“My first impression is that Italians are relaxed people, they like to take it easy, they’re not wound up with stress.”
The Peace Summit will continue tomorrow.