Guest Speakers

Remarks by Prince El Hassan bin Talal, Second Forum

Thank you for your generous introduction. I hope you didn't believe a word of it. The real reason that I feel I am here is that I and my wife, who have been married for thirty-five years, are blessed with four children and five grandchildren. And the only reason I get out of bed in the morning in this rather dark world is the feeling that it is their kind faces that shame me if I do not do one iota of good in these very bad times.

So thank you, Reverend, President, Chairman, Secretary-General, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, for inviting me, the humble servant of my Creator, to address you. Since arigatou means shukran in Arabic and 'thank you' in English, I would like to begin by thanking the organisers for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you on our promise to listen to humanity - to listen to children. We're all very good at talking. How good are we at listening?

Since this meeting is in French-speaking Geneva, I would add the word merci, close cousin to the English word 'mercy', one of the highest divine qualities in the Muslim community, the Muslim ummah. Incidentally, let me remind you that ummah comes from umm, from 'mother'; from 'the womb of the mother.' Let me also remind you that the words rahman and rahim, Compassionate and Merciful (I was at the book-launch two days ago of the translation of the Holy Qur'an, one of the easier translations yet produced to read for the international reader, produced by my old university, Oxford, and compiled by Professor Muhammad Abdul Haleem with a marvelous team of young people) - rahman and rahim in translation are the Lord of Mercy and the Giver of Mercy.

Across our various languages, as I said at the Sorbonne just a few weeks ago, it is my feeling that we need to develop conscience universelle et valeurs partagés, the national consciousness and shared values. We come here to speak a lot about tolerance and toleration. I don't want to tolerate you. You do not want to tolerate me. But what we believe firmly is to enhance universal values and respect our differences. And in that sense, I think that respect is an important statement not only in terms of rites and rituals but also in terms of substance.

I would like to start from the encyclopedic international legislation after World War II: international communities' establishment of significant norms and standards for racial equality and tolerance. The United Nations adopted conventions starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and followed by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, prohibiting discrimination of any kind. This was paralleled with provisions contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human Rights. I would also like to add that today, in addition to covenants on civil and political rights, social, economic and cultural rights, we are proud in 192 countries to have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And we still wait expectantly and hopefully for the United States of America and Somalia to join this convention.

The United Nations also followed with more specific conventions prohibiting racial discrimination against women; apartheid; and other specialised conventions that have dealt with the application of racial discrimination, as in the case of the Refugee Convention that is quoted on political asylum. And yet, you referred to the convening here in Geneva only a few weeks ago of a five-person round table which I had the misfortune of chairing, including presidents and prime ministers of Poland, Finland, Tanzania, Brazil. I say 'the misfortune' because I felt what I felt that I shared, alongside the late Prince Sadruddin, with the International Commission for Humanitarian Issues. We listened to all the NGOs [non-governmental organisations]. In those days, the NGOs were field-oriented. They were social activists. Today, I think that many of the NGOs, with all due respect, have been lulled - by the compact with Bretton Woods, with the World Bank - into becoming desk-oriented.

I personally have deserted Davos for Porto Alegre and Mumbai. I say that with a heavy heart because, after one week of discussion, we proposed a racial equality index; and, as with the call for a culture of compliance for the problems of implementation in the field of international humanitarian and human rights law, of international humanitarian norms, I get the impression in today's world that you can talk about 'world order,' 'economic order,' 'security order,' 'IT order' - but don't mention 'humanitarian order.' And I would like to quote from this report, the Project Proposal relating to a Culture of Compliance presented by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA (which, you remember, used to be UNRO, the United Nations Relief Organisation), and the Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues: 'Hiding behind one excuse or the other, governments tend to violate international humanitarian and human rights law and bypass the universally accepted norms and principles and thus cause a lot of suffering.'

I personally am delighted to feel that the Catholic Bishops 'Council and the Asian Muslims' Council are working together to address the subject of hundreds of thousands of children sold into the sex slave trade in Cambodia and neighbouring countries. This is one of the many problems that are not recognised by governments. I would like to suggest that it is in 'such situations that international reprimands and pressures for compliance are often ignored. Ironically, violations take place in circumstances and at a time when respect for these laws is most needed. The problem is further exacerbated and becomes far more complex when it involves non-state actors,' the grey economy: drug-smuggling, weapons-smuggling, money-laundering. (The universal phenomenon, the all-powerful 'Pipelineistan.' Pipelineistan. Yes, we all crave oil to keep the electricity, which was wavering a few moments ago, so that we can see each other; but what about the people living close to those pipelines? Do they count?)

'Furthermore, non-compliance is not opposed with equal vigour everywhere because the states which have the financial, political and military means to intervene do so in a selective manner, depending on their own national interests and perceptions. Selectivity is becoming a inhibiting factor for preventive and curative measures by the international community just as conditionality is becoming a handicap for humanitarian aid to victims.'

This month alone, and I quote from the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, eight Palestinian minors lost their lives. Eight Palestinian children. Over the past several months, according to the same statement, over six hundred have lost their lives. So I wonder: what is the use of all these international conventions - thematic, encyclopedic - if there is not a humanitarian ethic, an ethic of human solidarity to bind them together? I travel as a lobbyist for my own conscience if nothing else (because I am not an international civil servant) to remind you on September 29 2000 'Palestinian minors under the age of eighteen killed by Israeli security forces in the Occupied Territories including East Jerusalem' - source is B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights - '673.' I don't have figures for the children killed in Iraq. And people in our part of the world are furious. Why? Because they feel 'it doesn't matter,' because they are Arabs and Muslims.

It is this feeling of injustice that brings me back to the words of Mahatma Gandhi that: "All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of the others." I wonder, ladies and gentlemen, whether the concept of an international humanitarian order, an international law of peace, could substitute the existing situation. The existing situation is that we have a law of war but there is no such thing as a law of peace. The treatment of prisoners, the treatment of refugees are concessions to the law of war; there is no law of peace.

As Zbigniew Brzezinski put it the other day, the war against terror makes no sense. The Allies fought against the Blitzkrieg, and the Blitzkrieg, like terror, is a tool of war. But did they fight against the Blitzkrieg? I thought they fought against the form of government that was despotic; and I would like to suggest that today, in presenting and promoting our shared humanity, we cannot be selective - political gain and political expediency - but we need to develop a shared policy based on humanitarian principles. I would like to turn towards a universal declaration (and this might be of interest to the working groups) on the basic principles of democracy, on principles for realisation. I would like to say, in the words of the former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali: "Democracy not only within states but between states."

'In democracy,' and I am quoting Aristotle (I don't know where Aristotle is rated in the war on terror; is he with us or against us? I really don't know) ... 'in democracy, liberty is to be supposed; for it is commonly held that no man is free in any [other] government.' I would like to suggest that you consider (and this is a document produced by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, largely responsible for the creation of the war crimes tribunal, at De Paul University. It is in association with the International Commission of Jurists) - I would just like to suggest that there are three paradigms.

The universality or relativity of democracy - one of the speakers spoke about the situation of affluent children in poor countries. Let me assure you that most of our skilled health workers that the WHO is admitting today are the product of very fine schools of medicine in Jordan. After they have completed their basic education the crème de la crème migrate to the Western hemisphere. We have lost our middle class, our talented middle class. We are a recruiting ground for talent. The United States today, in terms of GWP (Gross Working Product), depends 30% on the youth and the vitality of people from developing countries.

The second paradigm in the democracy is either a process or a condition. Some seem to think, in this globalised world, that democracy is a commodity you buy off the shelf; but I would like to suggest that nurturing a democracy as methods and modalities over substance and substantive outcomes brings us to the following conclusions: either we regard democracy as a process and start from the bottom up, from the children, from the youth, with their involvement and their dignity and their individual and collective rights understood and their responsibilities fulfilled; or we start with democracy as a state or a condition and governments pay lip-service to the theme of the moment. I personally would like to subscribe to democracy as a process and democracy as an outcome.

We know the problems of governance in our world - and I quote V. A. Panandiker in reference to the problems of governance in South Asia, which apply to West Asia: population growth, poverty and deprivation, slow economic development, high illiteracy, high infant mortality, poor healthcare and sanitation, inadequacy of human democratic processes, poor quality of institutions or governance (I'm not speaking here of government but governance), failure of political parties, politicisation of armed forces, rise in ethnic conflict, rise in violence, growth in urban migration, degradation of the environment and corruption in public life. I would like to suggest a common minimum agenda which includes recognising the sovereignty of the citizen; making families stakeholders; 'villagising' democracy; controlling population growth; economic growth with equity; social development bringing justice back into the development equation.

All of what I am saying here is encompassed in the study Winning the Human Race?, the product of over twenty sectoral studies produced by the Independent Commission on Humanitarian Issues. Every year at the General Assembly there is a universal call to the Secretary General: "Give serious study to the implementation - global implementation - of this appeal" - not individual recommendations to be accepted by individual organisations to effect name change, but a global network.

I would like to commend to you the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly. As President of the Club of Rome, I can address, as an Arab, on the basis of a programme 'Triple-E' (European Environmental Education), people of all ages in the former Eastern European countries because children - like water, like energy, like coal and steel - are a transboundary issue. Children are a transboundary issue. Children do not choose to be born as nationals of this country or that country so why do we consider children in compartments?

I would like to suggest that the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, founded on the basis of the idea that peace and human rights are inseparable, addressed a proposition which was far from obvious; for in the West, it was peace that bothered many while, in the East, human rights were a main concern. The assembly was unique in bringing the two pieces together in a practical way and they became embodied in a network of people. I would like you to know that it was the main approach of the East-West network during the 1980s (and I had the privilege of working alongside Vaclav Havel, Bronislaw Geremek, Adam Mishnik and others, listening to those students - of course, having a title of 'Prince' is a red flag to a bull; I know; I was standing on the barricade in 1968 - we had an earful of criticism and I don't blame them). However many years later, the beauty is that we are talking to each other - not up to each other or down to each other but the new reality of 'détente from below' or 'human détente' is beginning to develop, not least of all in our meeting only a few days ago in Jordan; we developed MECA, the Middle East Citizens' Assembly.

There's much that I would tell you but I know that my time is limited. Let me just conclude by suggesting that when we speak of the Greater Middle East partnership (as the President of the United States has just done and will repeat at the G8 summit scheduled for June 2004), promotion of this programme is based, I am happy to say, on the three deficits identified by the Arab authors of the 2002-2003 United Nations Arab Human Development Report. That's the good news. The bad news is that they've been so praised by the US that they are beginning to feel that they are pariahs in their own community.

Three deficits: of freedom, knowledge and women's empowerment. I hope that you realise that over fifty million young people will enter the labour market by 2010, one hundred million will enter by 2020, a minimum of six million new jobs need to be created in our part of the world to absorb these new entrants, and yet 24% of Arabs live on a dollar a day and 55% live on $2-5 a day. Yet 300,000 Middle Easterners represent $1.3 trillion, according to Merrill Lynch, in the United States. An American said to me the other day, "We are dysfunctionally bankrupt." I said, "You can afford it." (I am only familiar with the concept of being functionally bankrupt.)

Ladies and gentlemen, the opportunity to address you is a rare one; and I would like to say that faith, in parallel with secular moral codes, prompts the belief that we all work to reduce violence, poverty, drug abuse, disease, malice, ignorance and other factors which degrade the environment for our children. I entreat you to think in an interdisciplinary manner; to realise that, whatever your particular niche or speciality is, unless you make common cause with others working in this partnership in our common humanity, we will not recognise that what children need most and deserve most is justice.

Children have less experience than adults in so-called correct responses to different situations and more particularly how to deal with them. They are physically weaker than adults and have less control over their bodies and minds. Yet they do not lack in perception and sense of justice. As Charles Dickens said over one hundred and fifty years ago in 1861, "In their little worlds in which children have their existence, there is nothing so [finely perceived and so] finely felt as injustice."

Imagination, empathy and goodwill are what we can bring to this conversation. Children are souls created with rights and responsibilities toward their selves, families, peers and environment. Let us be true to our call for Councils on Global Ethics, for international codes of conduct and, as you have mentioned, Bill Vendley, in our work with UNICEF, on global advocacy of children's rights, developing toolkits for religious leaders, engaging the religious media, building country-programme partnerships.

I would like to say to the Reverend Miyamoto - I would like to say to all your colleagues in Buddhist organisations, not only in Japan but in other Buddhist countries (I am visiting Japan in July) - that there is a rare opportunity for your culture, the wisdom of the ancients, to contribute to a new, interconnected network of human solidarity. Please recognise, as my dear friend Mircea Malitza from the Black Sea University once said, that one of the greatest criticisms that can be levelled at our world of ten thousand cultures (to paraphrase my friend) lies surely in the fact that the victims of man's inhumanity to man are often the most vulnerable and the most innocent.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.