North-South Centre - European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity


17 May 2010 – 4pm

Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
on the occasion of the
Official Award Ceremony of the 2009 North-South Prize
and the 20th Anniversary of the North-South Centre
Lisbon, 18 May 2010

Dear Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a very special year for the North-South Centre as it celebrates its twentieth anniversary and the fifteenth anniversary year of its North-South Prize. Many previous prize-winners have joined us today or have sent messages of support, and I greet them most warmly.

I should like to thank the Portuguese Parliament for its support to this event and for welcoming us this evening. The Portuguese authorities are the host and faithful sponsor of our North-South Centre and we are most grateful for their continued support.
Looking at the list of previous laureates of the North-South Prize,
I am struck by their diversity. They are personalities from different regions and backgrounds, some well-known and others working on grass roots projects.

What they have in common is a deep-rooted commitment to the universal values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and a desire to make change happen, whether it be at global, national or local level.

The two laureates for 2009 exemplify this diversity and are similar in their belief in the possibility for change, sometimes seemingly against all odds.

Rola Dashti is a leading activist in Kuwait, well-known throughout the Middle East region for her advocacy of democratic reform and gender equality. She has been involved in several volunteering activities since her undergraduate years, in particular in assisting refugee families in Lebanon while working with the International Red Cross, and in promoting the economic empowerment of women in the Republic of Yemen. In 2009 she was elected to the Parliament of Kuwait, one of the first four women ever to win a seat.

In 2005 she was awarded the King Hussein Humanitarian Award and we honour today her dedication to the fight for women’s rights in her country and in the Middle East. Gender equality has long been a focus of my own work in the Council of Europe, and the work of
Rola Dashti reminds me again that we must never be complacent in pushing for true equality between women and men in all fields and at all levels. For even where equality exists in legal terms, there is a long road ahead before all the conditions for genuine equality of opportunity in every sphere of life are fulfilled.

Our second laureate, Mikhail Gorbatchev, has been at the heart of change on the European continent. As the last Head of State of the USSR, he dared to call for reform and in so doing contributed significantly to the end of the Cold War. He has remained active in Russian political life as well as on the world stage, as a proponent of world peace and social and human rights. In 1992 he established the Gorbatchev Foundation and in 1993 the International Green Cross. His vision holds of course a special resonance to us in the Council of Europe. At the 60th anniversary celebrations of our Organisation last year he reminded us of the special responsibility of Europe to promoting and maintaining stability in the world, a responsibility which the Council of Europe translates as contributing to “deep security” on our continent and beyond.

The two recipients of the Prize remind us that deep change for the better in our world – even radical change - is possible and within our reach. Let us follow their example as we move forward in our dialogue between countries and regions, continents and peoples.

I congratulate both of them most warmly.