Strasbourg, Wednesday, 12 December 2001
Speech by Mrs Nicole FONTAINE, President of the European Parliament, |
at the Sakharov Prize award ceremony
Mrs Nurit Peled-Elhanan,
Mr Izzat Ghazzawi and
Monsignor Zacarias Kamwenho,
It is with great pleasure that the European Parliament welcomes you today in this chamber, in order to award you the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought. Please allow me to offer a warm welcome not only to yourselves but also to the persons accompanying you, and especially to those of your relatives who are present.
Since 1988, the Sakharov Prize has been awarded every year by the European Parliament in recognition of individuals or organisations who have left their mark on the struggle for human rights and freedom in their home countries. At the centre of their actions has lain a deeply-rooted conviction: the right to live in an environment of respect and recognition of the dignity of all human beings, whatever their ethnic origins, gender or beliefs.
This year it has been decided, for the first time, that the Sakharov prize is to be shared between three recipients. This is an exceptional decision in response to exceptional circumstances.
Mrs Nurit Peled-Elhanan:
You are an Israeli who has been through profound and personal suffering. One day, you wrote: 'If war is to be ended, it is necessary to realise that blood is the same colour for everyone and that when a single child dies the whole world dies with it'.
When your thirteen-year-old daughter Smadar lost her life in a Palestinian suicide bombing, you did not allow the horror to turn your mind towards hatred. Instead, you chose to denounce 'a short-sighted policy which refuses to recognise the rights of the other and stirs up hatred and
How many of us can be sure that we too would maintain the same courage and dignity in the face of the worst injustice of all, the loss of a child?
All of us must feel affected in the depths of our being by the strength and lucidity which have made you, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, the symbol of all those Israelis who are campaigning for a peace which will take full account of the existence and the aspirations of two peoples, the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.
We are deeply concerned at the severe and continuing deterioration of the prospects for peace in the Middle East. We are highly disturbed at the successive failures of the initiatives for renewed dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. We are anxious at the advance of pro-war attitudes. We are endeavouring to strengthen the political and diplomatic action of the European Union in the region.
In awarding you the Sakharov Prize, our aim is to show our deep attachment to supporting all those who, through their daily acts, despite a difficult historical conjuncture and despite the pressure of events, are ceaselessly working for better relations between peoples.
Mr Izzat Ghazzawi:
You are a Palestinian whose suffering has also been great. In one of your letters from prison you addressed an Israeli friend and poet, Ya'ir Horowitz, who had just died. In your letter, you tried to re-create a dialogue interrupted by death, tracing the contours of the dream of peace which you had shared and drawing on the resources of hope to fight the despair which threatened to overwhelm you as the dream of peace receded with the years.
You have untiringly promoted the cause of peace and dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Your ardour has never slackened, despite imprisonment and censorship and, worse than all else, the irreplaceable loss of your sixteen-year-old son Rami, killed by the Israeli army while trying to help a schoolfriend who had been wounded in the school grounds.
You have resolutely pursued that same dialogue, through your writings, your lecturing at Birzeit University, your leading role as chairman of the Association of Palestinian Writers, your contacts with Israeli writers and your joint publications. You have endeavoured to make mutual understanding and tolerance prevail among the cultures, religions and peoples of the entire region.
Mrs Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Mr Izzat Ghazzawi, the European Parliament, by honouring you both together, wishes to make its contribution to advancing the cause of peace above war, to the expression of the forces of tolerance and understanding against the visibility of hatred, and to the preservation of hope on both sides, against the evidence of the actions which seek to smother hope.
Both of you embody a humanist ideal to which our Parliament is profoundly attached. As the Dalai Lama, only a few weeks ago, said to us in this same hemicycle: 'Many of the world's problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a human family'.
Your country has been at war for 25 years, or indeed, if one includes the independence struggle which began in 1961, for 40 years.
Two generations of Angolans have grown up without knowing the meaning of the word 'peace'. The balance-sheet of this interminable war makes frightening reading: one million dead, almost four million displaced, hundreds of thousands of war orphans and war wounded, an underfed population, one child in five dead before the age of five, life expectancy of under 45 years, millions of anti-personnel mines which will infest the soil for decades, and extreme poverty despite the existence of natural resources which have, unfortunately, largely been used only for purposes of warfare.
The European Parliament has at all moments been committed to a political solution to the Angolan conflict, and we have on repeated occasions stressed the urgent need for all parties to embark on a global dialogue with a view to a lasting peace based on the promotion and protection of human rights.
Our Parliament has repeatedly expressed its support for the efforts made in this direction by the churches and the organisations of civil society.
As the Archbishop of Lubango, as the president of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé, as the president of the Ecumenical Committee for Peace in Angola, you have been an apostle in the service of fundamental rights and peace and a symbol of the hopes of the Angolan people, of its desire for peace, liberty and justice.
We salute your life's journey as an individual and pay tribute to your ecumenical spirit, your determination and your eloquence.
We also salute you as a spokesman for the aspirations of all those in Angolan civil society who are working for dialogue and reconciliation.
Today and for all these reasons, Monsignor Kamwenho, we award you the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.
I shall conclude by expressing our wish to honour the memory of the victims of these conflicts, of all those, children, women and men, who have fallen in Israel, in Palestine and in Angola.
We are profoundly moved by their tragic fate, and affirm a common stand against violence in whatever form. It is in this spirit that we declare our support for Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Izzat Ghazzawi and Zacarias Kamwenho, the three winners of the Sakharov Prize for 2001, and for their ceaseless campaign for peace.