Ladies and gentlemen, It is an honour for me to receive the Sunhak Peace Prize, particularly in times increasingly marked by war and violence when speaking of peace is perceived as unrealistic and utopian. I wish to thank Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon for devoting their lives to achieving universal peace and promoting the fundamental values of peace, dialogue and cooperation in the name of the human family.
Now more than ever, there is a compelling need for building a better world for future generations and sustainable peace. I have personally seen the atrocities of war and its devastating impact. I have spent the last thirty years of my life in war-torn countries, operating on patients in Rwanda, Peru, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. In these and other countries, EMERGENCY – the humanitarian organization I founded 23 years ago - is committed to providing free and high-quality medical and surgical care to the victims of war, whose effects are not limited to the wounded and refugees, but have severe repercussions on the future of entire generations.
Many of the conflicts that are currently ravaging countries reducing populations to misery and hunger are often undeclared or deliberately silenced. The massacres are increasing, to the point that it is hard to remember them all. For most of us, they seem so far and alien from our daily life. It is so easy to listen to the news without realizing that after every bomb, after every shell there are people struggling to survive. Ninety percent of the victims of the wars of our time are civilians, people equal to us, with the same needs, the same hopes and the same desire for their beloved ones: living safely, staying together, and being protected.
According to recent estimates, “eight individuals own as much as the poorest 3.6 billion people. Meanwhile, every day 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry.” Are we still surprised that people increasingly embark on perilous journeys and strive to find a better future? Last year over 60 million people were forced to leave their homes, looking for protection and safety. They had the dream of living in peace, but we are deaf to their hopes. “What did I do wrong?” a Somali guy landing in Sicily asked me. I could not give him an answer.
Even though migrants arriving in Europe represent a small portion of the migrant population scattered across the globe, the so-called “migration crisis” has shed light on the hypocrisy of the European approach to human rights. On the one hand, we firmly promote the principles of peace, democracy and fundamental rights, while, on the other, we are building a fortress made of walls and cultural barriers, denying access and basic help to thousands of people fleeing war and poverty.
The case of Afghanistan serves an emblematic example. In the last 15 years, Afghanistan has been devastated by a new war. Every year in our hospitals around the country we register a new record of war wounded, one third of them are children. Afghanistan has been the source country of the second-highest number of refugees worldwide (only recently surpassed by Syria), with almost 3 million Afghans living mainly in Pakistan and Iran. This tragedy has been ignored for many years by the Western countries and has become a priority only when Afghan refugees have turned to Europe as their final destination. In response to this increasing flow, rather than investing in welcoming and integration programs and addressing the root causes of the conflict, European leaders have signed an agreement with the Afghan government to legally deport asylum seekers back to Afghanistan in exchange for financial aid.
The broken lives of all of them urge us to reflect, ask us to take action to get out of the spiral of war and violence. If we wish to work for the survival of humankind, the abolition of war is necessary and inevitable. It falls within the mandate of the UN, founded over 70 years ago, but still today very little has been done to fulfill their core mandate.
EMERGENCY has come to believe that the abolition of war is the only realistic and humane solution to end human suffering and promote universal human rights. With this objective in mind, EMERGENCY is working to launch an international campaign involving world-renowned personalities as well as ordinary citizens. It might sound utopian, but in fact it is a realistic and achievable objective. It is up to the world citizens to take action and conquer peace. Renouncing the logic of war and practicing fraternity and solidarity is not only desirable but urgently needed if we want the human experiment to continue. Today I am very happy to have the chance to warmly invite all of you to join us in this effort.