2018 North-South Prize Award Ceremony

Lisbon 7 May 2018
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As delivered

President of the Portuguese Republic

President of the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic

Head of the Portuguese Delegation to PACE

Distinguished Parliamentarians of the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic

Distinguished winners of the North-South Prize

Under Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent

Chair of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre

Executive Director of the North-South Centre


Ladies and Gentleman,

It is, as always, a great pleasure to be here in Lisbon to witness two valiant human rights defenders join the ranks of our North-South Prize laureates.

As the three distinguished speakers before me have pointed out, you Dr Gullet and you, Ms Kumpula, are worthy winners of this award.

We have heard about the leadership that you have provided, as the Secretaries-General of your Kenyan and Finnish Red Cross organisations, respectively, and about the people who have benefitted as a direct result.

But what I find striking is the symmetry between you.

7000 kilometres separate Helsinki and Nairobi.

The first belongs to a country whose territory reaches the Arctic Circle, while the second lies south of the equator.

And while the Finnish population is in the top fifth of world earners, Kenya’s population is in the poorest 20%.

Yet for all of those stark differences between your countries, you have won this prize because of what you have in common.

Both of you have made preserving the rights, dignity and lives of others your own life’s work.

Both of you have battled the odds to help those afflicted by natural and man-made disasters.

And both of you have invested your trust, energy and careers in the Red Cross as the vehicle through which you have made so much difference for so many people.

What a vehicle it is.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent is a movement that attracts the greatest of respect around the world.

With the highest of standards and the noblest of ambitions, it is little wonder that it mobilises 80 million donors, professionals and volunteers in its mission to help those facing tragedy, conflict and health and social problems.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a cynical age.

One in which people feel disempowered to change the world around them.

Where xenophobia, nationalism and populist politics have broken cover where for years they lay dormant.

And where trust in institutions is being eroded, often as part of a deliberate strategy from those who seek short term gain.

But trust in the Red Cross and Red Crescent remains firm.

And that trust enables this institution – and Doctor Gullet and Ms Kumpula within it – to work with civil society, with governments at every level and across every continent, to co-ordinate effective and sustainable action to the benefit of those in need.

Regardless of gender, or race, or religion.

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross addressed this issue in his speech to the Council of Europe in October 2016.

He was clear that humanitarian problems require political solutions.

And the Red Cross – and our 2018 laureates – are central to making that happen.

Humanitarian ethics. Intercultural dialogue. A trusted and effective institution.

This year’s winners reassure us that hope can triumph over cynicism.

They reflect perfectly the ethos of the North-South Prize.

And on behalf of the Council of Europe I congratulate them warmly for winning it.

I also want to thank all of those at the North-South Centre who work tirelessly to build and maintain links between Europe and countries beyond our southern shores.

And of course give special thanks to the Portuguese authorities whose continued support ensures so much visibility for the North-South Prize, the North-South Centre and our Organisation as a whole.

It is important that all of us play our part in signalling to the world that divisions can be overcome, that understanding can be reached and that, together, we can improve this world.

And for being here, and doing that, I thank you all most sincerely.