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Speech at the North-South Prize Award Ceremony

March 16, 2009

Jorge Sampaio, Un High Representative for The Alliance Of Civilizations

Speech at the North-South Prize Award Ceremony
Lisbon, March 16, 2009

His Excellency the President of the Portuguese Republic
Her Majesty the Queen Rania and His Majesty the King Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
The President of the Portuguese Parliament
Honorable Members of the Portuguese Parliament
The President of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General
The President of the North-South Center

Ladies and Gentlemen

In the unequal and often disappointing course of our world there are times when men atone for their sins and conflicts by forging paths that promote solidarity and greater ethical demands. This was the case when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the universal Declaration of Human Rights, providing a modern and universalistic body for the old founding documents of American independence and of the French constituents of 1789.
With it a new era began. Although devoid of direct binding power its text would serve as the decisive basis for later legal efforts that through new documents, duties and execution mechanisms have attempted to outline a face of greater justice and more effective responsibility for the international community.
The “European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity, the North-South Centre”, an auspicious creation of the Council of Europe, can by virtue of its objectives, functioning and peculiar decision-making process, be included in the direct lineage of those same concerns to improve mankind, so evident in the name itself. So, I am understandably proud to receive this award, greatly enhanced by my gratification at sharing the distinction with Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, whose outstanding efforts to bring cultures closer together have today received just recognition.
In the face of this honour I would like to proffer a personal note. I belong to a generation of Portuguese who from their young days and due to our domestic situation accompanied with particular expectations the legal developments of the various forms of human rights, from political and civil to economic, social and cultural. Later, both for professional and civic reasons, I defended their breach in the law courts of the dictatorial regime, or took part in initiatives that denounced the offences perpetrated by the national authorities of those unhappy times.
All this explains the particular memory I will cherish forever: that of being, five years after the restoration of democracy, the first Portuguese representative at the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe, immediately after Portugal ratified the Convention, at a time when tension between the two ideological blocs still fractured our continent.
Now, because of this award, I have reencountered today memories of old battles that helped mould my life. Today, and that is no doubt the reason behind this generous award, I am committed to and fully engaged in two other struggles for human dignity. Although on different planes these are based on identical principles of solidarity and on the promotion of understandings.
At the distinguished charge of the United Nations it befalls me to help raise awareness to the urgency for a more collaborative fight against the growing scourge of tuberculosis. In another sphere I work to promote the dialogue between peoples of different cultures and faiths which, by means of an alliance in the noblest meaning of the word, will improve the ambiguities and some of the mistakes made due to the reducing theory of the clash of civilizations.
In both cases we are fully immersed in one of the goals of the North-South Centre: mobilization towards greater awareness by political leaders and civil society to global problems by promoting policies geared to a more ambitious interpretation of human rights.
The plain but still widely disregarded truth that the real wealth of a nation lies in its people is often repeated, so that effective development will require appropriate health care systems, its condition being a privileged indicator of the progress of nations. Unfortunately, the asymmetries of wealth and of access to public goods that continue to characterize our times show that economic and social factors are decisively projected on the grim world geography of disease, epidemics and exclusions.
In this framework, through my many contacts, namely in sub-Saharan Africa, I have been able to witness the terrible and destructive power of tuberculosis. Despite the progress made in treatment, the new outbreaks reveal not only a terrifying persistence, but have also moved into new areas and made new victims with dire consequences on the social cohesion of vast communities.
It is therefore vital to insist on this subject that is so often marginalized, and to ask that it receive greater attention with more solidarity, – as this is a problem that by its very proportions exceeds its immediate political and medical nature to become an undeniable ethical issue.
In the other sphere of my current responsibilities, with the Alliance of Civilizations, the aim is to start from what is inherent to human societies – the amazing diversity of civilizations and cultures – and, on the fertile road of mutual interaction so finely recorded by historical memory, encourage conviviality and exchanges – both of information and of experiences – in order to establish collective action strategies leading to greater peace, more respect for differences and greater progress. As our period of intervention is short we must insist on remembering that the challenges of the varied interdependencies that beckon us in a world become by force of technology an immense global village, has never been so ample, diverse and harsh.
Hence the world financial and economic crisis we are currently experiencing – and with it discovering a parallel crisis of values – has underlined the need to respond to the global problems of our times through greater cooperation between States, structured on the open, democratic principles of responsible multilateralism. To do that we should remember that the credibility and effectiveness of this indispensable diplomatic method will depend on the long-planned but continuously postponed urgent reforms by the recurrent selfishness of States.
Miguel Torga, a Portuguese writer accustomed to looking beyond the horizon, wrote that “The Universal is the place without walls”. Let us follow his example and in line with the praiseworthy objectives of the North-South Centre, demolish the many walls that endanger our duties of solidarity and obstruct possible paths of concord.
Many thanks.
Video of the ceremony