The Power of Humanity and the Nobel Peace Prize

Published: 17 November 2006

It is a great honour for me, for the Italian Red Cross and for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to be invited to speak here today at this gathering of this outstanding personalities.

Your contribution to our planet is unparalleled, and I am sure that if Alfred Nobel were here today he would be immensely proud of the way his legacy has been used.

He would be proud to associate with the persons who keep his memory alive. Alfred Nobel would look at this gathering and recall his own testament.

He wanted the Peace Prize to be awarded to an individual who had worked to reduce or eliminate standing armies or directly promote peace conferences.

He also wanted the prize to recognise work done which best enhanced what he called “the brotherhood of peoples”.

These ambitions were linked by the award of the first Peace Prize to two persons, the founder of our Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Henry Dunant and the French pacifist Frederic Passy, now best remembered for his role in the foundation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Taken together, they stand as the strongest of reminders of the advocacy task which the Prize so effectively emphasises.

The Prize is always awarded in response to work done, but its greatest value for humanity is the way it stands for that task as work for the future.

People the world over respect the Prize for its inspiration to them – to hundreds of millions of people – to work for peace and the brotherhood to which Nobel dedicated his prize.

We take this very seriously in the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

I am not speaking today as a representative of either the International Committee of the Red Cross or the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as Prize winners. I prefer to be seen as one of almost 100 million people who today volunteer their services and talents in the name of the Fundamental Principles of our Movement.

I have myself been a volunteer to the Red Cross since the age of 8. I am personally deeply proud that I have been able to make this contribution, but prouder still of the fact that our Red Cross is so strong that my humble efforts can be linked to those of countless others to make a difference to the world.

To serve Alfred Nobel’s objective of brotherhood.

Forty years before the award of the first Peace Prize, our founder Henry Dunant volunteered himself at the battlefield of Solferino, in northern Italy, to salvage the lives and dignity of many thousands of soldiers from both sides in a tragic situation.

He was able, through the strength of his advocacy and his personality, to galvanise the support of the local population in the nearby town of Castiglione.

His “A Memory of Solferino”, written at the time in 1859, describes his experience amid the destruction of the battlefield.

In it, he calls for the establishment of an organisation dedicated to the relief of the wounded.

But, most appropriately for us here today is the last paragraph of the “Memory”.

It shows an extraordinary sense of where the world was heading, and what would need to be addressed in the future.

It is so profound that I quote it in full:

“If the new and frightful weapons of destruction which are now at the disposal of the nations, seem destined to abridge the duration of future wars, it appears likely, on the other hand, that future battles will only become more and more murderous. Moreover, in this age when surprise plays so important a part, is it not possible that wars may arise, from one quarter or another, in the most sudden and unexpected fashion? And do not these considerations alone constitute more than adequate reason for taking precautions against surprise?”

It is as if Henry Dunant had seen what would happen to Hiroshima and Nagasaki 86 years later. It is as if he had seen the way conflict would come to involve so many disparate groups in the way that it does today.

I could not help thinking of Dunant while listening to the moving address presented to us today by the Mayor of Hiroshima. I am sure we all share his feelings, and we all stand solidly together as advocates for a world free of nuclear weapons.

I am personally very pleased that so much of this forum is dedicated to this purpose, and I know that my colleagues in Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies everywhere in the world share this position.

When thinking of the horror of nuclear weapons I also think of the moving dispatches sent from the scene by the Head of the Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

His name was Marcel Junod and his memories, in which he refers to the Red Cross as “le troisième combattant” has just been translated into Italian and will be presented to the public on December the 3rd.

Junod was the first foreign doctor on the scene. One of his messages contained these grim words, a special reference for this forum:

“I have no doubt about it: the world today is confronted with a choice – to continue to exist, or to be annihilated if that bomb is used again”.

The Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital, which had been completed in 1939, somehow survived the bomb intact, but most of the doctors and nurses had been killed or injured and it was not possible to save the many thousands of lives of people who needed help so urgently.

Nevertheless, in 22 days of emergency rescue, it managed to serve 31,000 people and the Head Nurse of the Hospital at the time received the Florence Nightingale Medal in 1959.

Today, part of that structure is preserved in the new hospital as a monument to the catastrophe. It is a moving statement of the commitment of the Red Cross to the alleviation of human suffering, no matter the scale of the disaster people face.

This is a commitment that takes many forms.

Alfred Nobel’s reference to the brotherhood of peoples has helped build a clear understanding around the world of the relationship between peace and humanitarian work.

When Carl Joachim Hambro made the presentation speech in 1963 at the award ceremony for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the (as it was then called) League of Red Cross Societies, he concluded by noting the value of the contribution of Red Cross youth by saying

“it cannot be doubted that if millions of young women and men are taught in the schools that we are all brothers-"Tutti fratelli" and that little deeds of friendship and little words of love should bind the world together, the ideas of Nobel will triumph.”

These words are even more significant today.

The Italian Red Cross, like other members of our International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, places great emphasis on supporting activities relevant to youth. Youth are seen by us as people with a contribution which we must bring into our decision-making and the implementation of our programs.

Youth represent both the investment we must make for the future, and the future in which we must make the biggest investment.

I will give a short example, from the work of the Italian Red Cross. But it is also an example which is relevant to the example of Hiroshima.

Marcel Junod’s deputy in Japan in 1945, Franz Bilflinger, was in Hiroshima first, and sent Junod a message which makes chilling reading and contains this sentence:

“Effects of bomb mysteriously serious – many victims apparently recovering suddenly suffer fatal relapse due to decomposition white blood cells … now dying in great numbers”.

We in the Red Cross write about another terrible cause of death, transmitted through blood. HIV and AIDS.

This pandemic kills millions of people each year. At present approximately 40 million people are living with HIV and AIDS.

This is a real and special preoccupation for all Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and will remain one for many years to come. It is at the forefront of the International Federation’s Global Agenda, and at the heart of the domestic programming of our Societies around the world.

The struggle takes many forms, but it always involves Youth, and always involves them as participants in determined work to advance Alfred Nobel’s dream of brotherhood and peace.

HIV and AIDS has, after all, been designated by the United Nations Security Council as a threat to international peace and security, and it gives me great pride to be associated with programs here in Italy which take up this struggle.

Our own Villa Maraini rehabilitation centre, which I created 30 years ago in association with the Italian Red Cross, is in the forefront of this work, merging the efforts of volunteers, people living with AIDS, youth and decent people from the whole community.

Every day it meets 700 drug users, helping them survive and abandon their destructive behaviours.

It is our hope that this forum of Peace Prize winners will bring forth a message which will truly inspire people from all corners of the world and all corners of society to rededicate themselves to Alfred Nobel’s ideals of peace and brotherhood.

This is especially important now, in a world increasingly distracted by violence and conflict. It is conflict of the type foreseen by Dunant in the “Memory of Solferino”, for it is violence which has arisen in what most of the world would see as surprising and unexpected circumstances.

We need a recommitment by governments and all sectors of society to respect for diversity, to action against all forms of discrimination, to fight against intolerance and stigma, to determined action to reduce and eliminate poverty and oppression.

Such a recommitment is crucial to the realisation of the dream delivered by Alfred Nobel upon his death 110 years ago. We no longer worry most about governments and their kinds of wars. We are challenged by the growth of belligerence at the community level.

We accept this challenge in the Red Cross and Red Crescent. We accept it at all levels, from our work with partners in the international community including prize-winning organisations like the UN itself, with partners in humanitarian work like MSF, and in partnership with the wonderful individuals who have won the prize.

This is not a light comment. Our own memories of the prize go back to the partnership which was seen in 1901 between the work of Henry Dunant and Frederic Passy. Dunant was also a man of peace in the eyes of the first woman to win the Peace Prize, Bertha von Suttner (1905), who arranged for the publication of several of his works.

Partnership between our Movement and the ideals of the Prize continues, all the time. That is why we in the International Federation were so pleased to see the 2006 Prize awarded to Mohamed Yunus and the Grameen Bank.

The International Federation signed an agreement on micro-credit programs with the Grameen Bank on 25 January this year, in Madrid. We are honoured to be associated with Mohamed Yunus and the Bank as they approach the award of the Prize, noting that the honour is for them and for their humanitarian ideals, ideals consecrated in our own partnership.

This is all part of the world’s struggle for the reduction and elimination of poverty, and with that the removal of one of the most dangerous curses facing our planet.

Poverty is a curse which accumulates threats to international peace and security and to human life and dignity on a scale which parallels nuclear war.

We in the Red Cross and Red Crescent are particularly pleased that the award this year marks another recognition of that threat.

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