''Individual Human Rights and Universal Peace''

Boston , 

Speech by Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs


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Executive Director of the Weatherhead Center, Mr. Steven B. Bloomfield
Director of the Harvard Foundation, Dr. Allen Counter Jr.
Distinguished scholars,
Dear students,

I am greatly honoured that you have invited me to deliver the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

As I look down at my notes and the material I wish to cover this afternoon, I am reminded of the time George Bernard Shaw told a speaker he had 15 minutes to speak. The speaker replied, "15 minutes? How can I tell them all I know in 15 minutes?" Shaw responded, "I advise you to speak very slowly." I want to warn you in advance that my remarks will take longer than 15 minutes.

Dear friends,

I am addressing you today in two capacities. The first is as Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee which this year has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.

The second is as Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the oldest European organisation established in 1949 as a consequence of the total break down of human rights that led to World War II, and with the purpose to work for enduring peace on the European continent based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

I mention this because the legal texts, the norms and standards developed by the Council of Europe and monitored by a number of mechanisms, most notably the European Court of Human Rights, are among the important frameworks for how the Nobel Committee understands the factors of peace in the world.

But let us first recall the historical facts behind the Nobel Peace Prize: the Swedish chemist, engineer, and armaments manufacturer, Alfred Nobel wrote in his will in 1895 that the interests from his estate should be divided into five parts.

Four would go to the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, while the fifth part would go to the person who had done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

Nobel had at the end of his life become frightened by the destructive consequences his invention of dynamite could have. He now wanted to ensure that the wealth he attained was used for humanitarian and scientific purposes and for promoting peace world wide.

As you know, the first four prizes are awarded by the Nobel Committee in Stockholm. However, for the fifth prize – the Peace Prize – Nobel had decided that it should be awarded by a committee of five persons elected by the Norwegian Parliament.

Today, after 104 Nobel peace prizes, one can read in the Oxford Dictionary of Twentieth Century World Peace that the Nobel Peace Prize is the world's most prestigious prize, although it "competes" in a market of many peace prizes.

I believe the main reason for this is the CV of the peace prize. There have certainly been controversial winners, and there have been those who never became winners but should have been winners.

However, the different winners throughout the years reflect the fact that the Committee has adapted to changes in international politics and to factors influencing peace.

And I will add, the prize winners reflect the strength of universal liberal values, and the typically Scandinavian mixture of idealism and realism that makes up our approach to international politics.

We honour values that are fundamental to human nature and generally accepted worldwide.

The concept of peace has changed fundamentally since 1901. The meaning of "Fraternity among nations, abolition or reduction of standing armies and promotion of peace congresses" must be interpreted quite differently than at the beginning of the 20th century.

So what should the point of departure be for understanding peace? What should peace be measured against?

I would say that we should look at the moments in history when declarations formed the world and our understanding of man and society. These declarations have formed our thinking. And they have formed our actions and ways to peace.

The most notable of them, the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen redefined civic identity fundamentally.

"All men are born free and have equal rights". In their time it was a revolution.

But the declarations also changed the nation state. They strengthened the national identity which was good. However, they also opened for unintentional excesses of nationalism which was bad.

No longer was combat and war an enterprise for the Elite. Whole populations could be mobilized for wars; their wars. And this ideological transformation occurred just as technological innovations made mass destruction possible.

This is why the two 18th Century declarations were followed by a third: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This time not a revolution toward nationalism, but away from it. To internationalism.

The years 1776, 1789, and 1948 marked leaps forward in the human project. Ideals of justice and equality were advanced.

New political structures were invented that gradually changed the idea of sovereignty from the absolute rule of an autocrat, to the rule of the people and finally with the lessons from worlds wars, limited sovereignty of the nation state under the UN charter.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood", states Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 1966 the United Nations General Assembly adopted another milestone, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (The ICCPR), stating among others that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is a fundamental point of reference. These documents have paved the way for a new civic identity and a new world order. Associating ourselves with the fate of other people.

Using our freedom to make other people free.

Using our freedom to make war impossible, to combat global warming, and to make markets and money responsible.

As I recently wrote in the New York Times, "in a world community based on universal human rights, it is not a government's task to stamp out opinions as rumours and slanders as the Chinese authorities have said about Liu Xiaobo.

Governments are obliged to ensure the right to free expression – even if the speaker advocates a different social system".

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights established the moral basis on how we should relate to one another. It forms the basis for making societies more human and civilized and move towards brotherhood between nations that Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

At the same time the structures put in place after World War II were not negligent of the power realities of the world. Real politics were at the heart of the UN Charter as well, establishing the Security Council. And as all of us know: power politics continue to dominate the world.

Dear friends,

Power politics will always be part of our understanding of peace, but our moral reference against which to weigh any measurement of peace will always be human rights, how they are upheld and how they are violated.

That is also why the Nobel Committee has awarded the prize to practitioners of Real Politics such as Willy Brandt and Henry Kissinger. Last year it went to President Barack Obama. Such choices have often been controversial.

Obama is a rare but crucially important example of the multitude of forces of peace in our time, and the important role played by real politics.

As President, Obama tried from the very first moment to create a new climate in international politics.

Multilateral diplomacy has due to his effort regained a central position. Emphasis has been put on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.

Equally important, Obama reached out to the Muslim world addressing audiences in Cairo, Turkey and recently in Indonesia which has the world's largest Muslim population, about the need for coexistence and cooperation.

As former Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, David Miliband recently stated: "In the first year, President Obama made the rebuilding of America's reputation and partnerships with the Islamic world a central theme of his presidency".

This is what Alfred Nobel wrote in his will: brotherhood between nations.

Of course, results do not come easy, but should we have preferred the alternative? No.

Obama furthermore reenergized disarmament and arms control negotiations – he reached out to the Russians offering to change the plans for a missile defence.

On April 8 this year, his efforts were crowned when he signed the new START treaty in Prague with President Medvedev. He has brought new hope to the vision of a world free from nuclear arms.

This is what Alfred Nobel wrote about reducing standing armies.

Obama also immediately launched new efforts to make the peace negotiations in the Middle East move forward. No American president has done that during his first year in office.

To get adversaries to sit around the table is in today's world what Alfred Nobel called "convene peace congresses".

Each of these actions alone would have been reason enough to award Obama the peace prize, but he carried it all. As former peace prize laureate, Desmund Tutu said: "Obama lowered the temperature in the world. We were approaching the boiling point with conflicts on all arenas.

Today, the world has calmed down and the powers are talking."

Of course in American politics achievements in foreign policy does not necessarily bring victory on election day. But Obama captured the world's attention and gave its people hope for a better future.

To the Nobel Committee, his diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

"Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges" Obama said.

Looking back over the years the most honourable part of the Committee's history is maybe the one that has provoked the greatest outrage amongst governments – prizes awarded to human rights activists.

It was heavily debated in 1935 when the committee awarded the prize to German pacifist and opposition figure Carl von Ossietzky.

Two members of the Committee withdrew their membership, among others the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Hitler of course was even more outraged. Ossietzky was denied permission to go to Oslo and later died in a concentration camp.

It was not good either that the lawyer who came to Oslo representing Ossietzky and was given the diploma and the money ran off with the whole thing. That is, among others, why we will only hand over the diploma and money to Liu Wiaobo or his wife.

It did not go down well in Moscow either when Andrej Sakharov was awarded the prize in 1975. He had to send his wife to receive the prize.

Likewise in 1983 when Lech Walesa was awarded the prize.

The Burmese authorities were no less furious when Aung San Suu Kyi received the prize in 1991. She could not travel to Oslo either, but had to send her sons and husband.

The Committee's choice to award the prize to South African Albert Lutuli in 1960 and Desmond Tutu in 1984 caused heavy criticism from the authorities. However, the peace prizes to Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in 1993 where greatly applauded. Time had changed.

The crucial relation between human rights and peace is generally accepted today. Democracies rarely if ever wage war on one another.

Of course the definition of democracy and war can be discussed but respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law is a fundamental prerequisite for any society and for a peaceful world.

Fraternity between nations, which Alfred Nobel refers to in his will can hardly exist without human rights and democracy.

Dear friends,

What is the dominant force of the 21st Century? In a bright picture it could, until recently, have been the global economy, but it could also be information technology, or the scientific revolution, or the advance of democracy and diversity.

In a dark picture it could be climate change, continuing poverty, or conflicts caused by racial and religious tensions.

All these are important factors to our understanding of the new century we have entered. They all reflect one fundamental thing: the 21st Century is a century, more than anything, characterized by an unprecedented degree of interdependence among nations.

Globalization simply means that we have more trade, more travel, more communication, and more exchange than ever before. People experience more and benefits more than ever before in history.

But at the same time we have become more vulnerable. Look at the financial crisis: within weeks the impact of the meltdown of investment banks in the US had become hard realities all over the world.

On the question of security, the free flow of people, information and goods across borders and waters, means that threats are being spread by other means and with other intentions than we are used to.

Globalization has become the frame for a world system where all pieces are more or less dependent on one another.

Globalization gives birth to new great powers. New state actors are changing the rules of the game. No lasting solution to any of the major challenges of our time will be solved without the participation and commitment of the new great powers.

And let me be clear: in this globalized world national sovereignty cannot be absolute.

The threatening catastrophe of ecological ruin and the free, but amoral markets we are witnessing today contribute to the awareness that we must build stronger global institutions and that we must transfer national sovereignty to them.

But first and foremost, all powers, old and new, must unite around the universality of human rights. This is the point of departure.

We have all seen China's enormous economic advances. The country is the world's second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.

But China's new status must entail increased responsibility. As we criticized the US for the Vietnam war, for the lack of civil rights for Afro-Americans, we must criticize China for its breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights.

China has adopted both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

And looking at China's constitution, article 35 lays down that "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration". In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens.

The Chinese court believes that Liu Xiaobou with the intention to overthrow the state power and socialist system of our country's people's democratic dictatorship, used internet features of rapid transmissions of information, broad reach, great social influence.

In a democratic society you have the right to call for a change in system as well as political practice. So if the Chinese claim to have adopted democratic rights in their constitution how can it be a crime to speak out against the socialist system and people's democratic dictatorship.

Clearly Chinese criminal law is not in conformity with its own constitution and international obligations.

When the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China we took all of this into consideration.

That there is a close and crucial connection between human rights and peace.

That human rights are a prerequisite for the "fraternity between nations" of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

And that China as a new global power must be judged by the same standards as we judge ourselves when it comes to its responsibility as a member of the World Community.

When Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 many groups in the US reacted negatively. When Sakharov was awarded the prize the criticism of the Soviet Union was immense.

As a global power, China must be prepared for criticism in the years ahead. It is the prize for being a prominent member of the world community.

The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China.

He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on December 10, 2008.

The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years' deprivation of political rights for "inciting subversion of state power". Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights.

He should be set free.

Dear Friends,

For the past 100 years human rights and democracy have spread throughout the world. Today it is no longer limited to the so-called Western world.

A number of important Muslim countries follows the principle of democracy, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe, and as Secretary General of the Council of Europe, I know from first-hand experience that Turkey is steadily developing towards a modern democratic society with respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Our Court of Human Rights along with our monitoring bodies are continuously scrutinizing Turkey.

Democracy does not need to follow one single recipe, national culture will always affect a state system. But respect for fundamental human rights is essential because they are the root to any lasting peace.

The American Academic, Francis Fukuyama became famous for his book "The End of History and the Last Man". But the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago was not the end of history.

Actually what Fukuyama said was that since the French Revolution, democracy has time and again proven to be a fundamentally better political system than any other alternative.

He is right – history has proven that in the long run only democracies can respect and ensure the rights of the individual. And only democracy can be the point of departure for lasting universal peace.

Dear friends,

Isaac Newton once said that "if I have seen further it is because I have been standing on the shoulders of giants."

Today, if we are able to see further it is because we are standing on the shoulders of the many brave peace prize winners, men and women who during their time, and often at great risk, have stood up for their beliefs, have stood up for our rights and have made our freedom possible.

We owe it to future generations to continue this bravery and fight for individual human rights and universal peace.

Thank you.