This June has seen two interesting developments related to the Peace Nobel, one is direct, and the other one touches the aura of the world’s only singular recognition.
First the directly related one: The one was really heart touching when Aung San Suu Kyi delivered the Peace Nobel acceptance speech on Saturday, June 16 in Oslo. Suu Kyi was awarded the Peace Nobel in 1991 when she was under house arrest. A lone warrior of democracy in Myanmar, she was under house arrest for almost 15 years before being released in 2010.
And what an inspiring speech she delivered as epitomized in these words, "The First World War represented a terrifying waste of youth and potential, a cruel squandering of the positive forces of our planet. ... And for what? Nearly a century on, we have yet to find a satisfactory answer. Are we not still guilty, if to a less violent degree, of recklessness, of improvidence with regard to our future and our humanity? War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.”
This June, when she began her five-nation Europe tour, it was any abroad tour for her after a gap of 24 years. But what a great event it has been. Wherever she is going, a rally of supporters and fans, in thousands, are always there to cheer for her. She has not met most of them including Bono, yet they are there for her. Real stars are like this.
The U2 singer is a long time admirer of Suu kyi and written the 2000 hit ‘Walk On’ on her. Bono who had not met her before had only this to say, "I'm star-struck ... but I'm managing to get over it."
Tomorrow, Suu Kyi is turning 67 and on Wednesday, she will be in Oxford to accept an honorary doctorate. Like many of her highly acclaimed international awards and prizes, this doctorate, too, was awarded to her in 1993, during days of house arrest.
Suu Kyi’s Peace Nobel speech after 21 years pushes me to think about another hard-to-come possibility: Shouldn’t we hope for a day when Liu Xiaobo, too, would be able to accept his Peace Nobel Prize and deliver the acceptance speech?
Now to the indirect one: Last year’s Peace Nobel was awarded to three distinguished women, two Liberians, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and women’s rights activist Leymah Gbowee, and the Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman.
The two Liberians were hailed as the mascots of the wave of change in the civil war torn nation. The prize committee was of the view that recognizing their efforts would strengthen the democratization process in Liberia. In-built to the thoughts were promotion of rule of law and respect for human rights.
Two recent reports put the Liberian government in the dock on situation of human rights.
Let’s see how the 2011 Human Rights Report of the US Department of State puts it.
The Executive summary of the report on Liberia says, “Among the most serious human rights abuses were those tied to justice: judicial inefficiency and corruption, lengthy pretrial detention, denial of due process, and harsh prison conditions. Violence against women and children, including rape and domestic violence, and child labor also were serious problems. Other important human rights abuses included unlawful deprivation of life; mob killings; reported ritualistic killings and trial by ordeal; police abuse, harassment, and intimidation of detainees and others; arbitrary arrest and detention; official corruption; domestic human trafficking; and racial and ethnic discrimination. Impunity was a serious problem despite government attempts to prosecute and punish officials.”
The other report from the Human Rights Watch accuses the Liberian government of failing to arrest and try the war criminals of Ivory Coast who fled the country after its former president (read dictator) Laurent Gbagbo was captured last April. Already accused of perpetrating some of the worst crimes against humanity, these war criminals are freely moving in Liberia recruiting death squads including children to wage war against the present government of Ivory Coast.
The civil war between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Outtara (opposition leader who had won the November 2010 presidential runoff) loyalists had killed an estimated 3000 people according to the Christian Science Monitor report titled ‘Is Liberia turning into a haven for militant groups - again?’.
It is true Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cannot do miracle and it will take years before Liberia can become a prosperous and peaceful nation. Internal strife and violence due to political factionalism cannot be completely controlled in a country that was almost destroyed by over two decades of dictatorship and civil war. The economy was gone by 2005 when democratic elections were held after the international intervention.
So Sirleaf cannot be criticized on that front. But the work has just begun. Liberia, one of the modern Sub-Saharan Africa countries, needs international support and economic aid to grow and control the still-existing elements of civil war mentality as evident from the controversies and threats of violence during the last year's presidential election.
So when the Liberian government, instead of being sincerely analytical of these reports and accepting the fault-lines to check the wrongs, outrightly rejects these reports lashing out on the agencies preparing them, it is a disturbing sign and very anti-Peace Nobel.
Sirleaf has had a long career and global exposure and such ‘dictatorial and reactionary grudges’ are the least expected overtures from her government especially after the fact that Liberia has still miles to go before it can see itself as the nation it happened to be before the military coup of 1980.
85 per cent of the Liberians are below-the-poverty-line lot devoid of almost of the basic amenities.