2009 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence award ceremony

News 16th November 2009

The UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence was awarded to this year’s two laureates - François Houtart, Belgian sociologist and theologian, and Abdul Sattar Edhi, Pakistani philanthropist – at a ceremony at UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters on 16 November - International Day for Tolerance.

The Prize-giving ceremony started with a video message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of International Day for Tolerance 2009 which, as underlined the Director-General, “takes on special significance, falling as it does on the eve of the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures, 2010”. Ms Bokova called attention to the urgent need for “a critical reflection on progress and the next steps to be taken” in order “to make the world a more tolerant place for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable communities”. The Director-General underlined that the challenge that we are facing “in today’s rapidly changing and increasingly interdependent world” is how to overcome “mistrust and conflict” which are rooted in “ignorance and intolerance” and are exacerbated by “the financial and economic crisis of the past year... with more than 100 million people slipping into poverty”. Ms Bokova stressed that “we need to stem this trend through bold programmes that promote pluralism, peace, justice and human solidarity as the foundation for a more just, inclusive and sustainable future”. The Director-General underscored the importance of education as “a powerful vehicle for countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others”. She also emphasized that the International Day for Tolerance is an ideal occasion “to mobilize educators, the media, and public and private institutions to increase their efforts to raise public awareness of the dangers of intolerance and reaffirm a collective determination to promote dialogue and non-violence”. Ms Bokova declared clearly that “each of us shares the responsibility for building a better global order through mutual respect and understanding”.

The 2009 laureates were designated on 20 October by the Director-General of UNESCO on the recommendation of an International Jury chaired by Ioanna Kuçuradi (Turkey) and composed of Maurice Glélé Ahanhanzo (Benin), Kamal Hossain (Bangladesh), Masateru Nakagawa (Japan) and Mokhtar Taleb-Bendiab (Algeria). During the ceremony, the International Jury was represented by Mr Taleb-Bendiab, Director-General of the Institute of Arab World in Paris. He stressed that the decision of the Jury reflected a willingness to share the Prize among two outstanding personalities who represent the North and the South for their exceptional lifelong contribution to inculcate the ideals of tolerance, non-violence, peace, human rights, human dignity and social justice. He underlined that this Prize is not only a reward for the laureates but also aims at encouraging everyone who works towards the noble goals of the promotion of tolerance and non-violence.

Presenting the 2009 laureates of the Prize, Mr Marcio Barbosa, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, pointed out that “the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize is one the Organization’s most important and prestigious Prizes”. He recalled the adoption by UNESCO in 1995 of the Declaration of the Principles on Tolerance which declares that tolerance is not only a moral duty but also a political and legal requirement and affirms that “Tolerance is […] an active position for defending human dignity, respecting human rights and being intolerant of their violations.” Mr Barbosa underlined that “it is a stance that the two laureates of the 2009 Prize have actively adopted throughout their lives”.

Mr François Houtart is an ardent promoter of North-South cooperation and the founder of the Tri-Continental Centre (CETRI), a non-governmental organization reputed for its work on development issues for the International Council of the World Social Forum. A defender of human rights throughout his life, he has contributed significantly to the advancement of the inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue. As a noted sociologist of religion and a theologian, he has authored numerous publications and given lectures in over 100 universities around the world. An honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of Vietnam and Cuba and a member of the Commission on Struggle against Racism of the Ecumenical Council of the Churches, he has served as President of the Committee for Human Rights in Burundi (1986-1992) and of the International League for People’s Rights (2003-2008).

In his acceptance speech, Mr Houtart underscored that many intolerable situations - irresponsible financial practices and speculation, creation of economic wealth at the expense of ecological destruction and multifaceted social injustices, dangerous man-made air pollution, spreading of violence and establishing of military bases over the planet for taking control over natural resources - have to change in order to put tolerance into practice. Speaking about the problem of violence, Mr Houtart underlined that “there is no doubt that using terrorist methods must be condemned as ethically unacceptable, from wherever they come, even if the despair from seemingly hopeless situations unfortunately leads to this type of resistance.  But it is also necessary to reject State terrorism in all its forms”.

François Houtart raised the “question of alternatives and the new paradigms necessary to ensure the continuity of human life on the planet” and proposed four principles to be followed to ensure the survival of our planet. The first behavioral shift that humankind should make is related to changing its relationship with nature which should no longer be seen as a resource for exploitation but as a source of life and common heritage of humankind to be used in a sustainable and responsible manner through transparent and democratically elaborated decisions. The second paradigm shift is related to the production of goods and services which, rather than putting the focus on profit-making and its use by a minority possessing decision-making power, should reaffirm the vision of economy as the basis for ensuring physical, cultural and spiritual life of all human beings on our planet. The third paradigm concerns the organization of social and political life on the principles of democracy which should be mainstreamed into all human relationships – not only political, but also economic, social, cultural, religious and, especially, those between men and women. Finally the fourth paradigm is related to building up society on an ethical base which affirms respect for cultural diversity and multiculturalism. To put into practice these four principles, Mr Houtart suggested that UNESCO takes the lead in elaborating a new Universal Declaration of the Common Good of Humanity, reinforcing the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR)

Underlining the importance of human rights, Mr Houtart remarked that though “human rights took 200 years to become universal” and though “they may be too incomplete, too western and used politically by certain powers to consolidate their hegemony in the world” but the UDHR “has the merit of existing and it has saved the life and liberty of many people in the world”. Mr Houtart concluded by emphasizing that, in his opinion, it is a valuable task for UNESCO to ensure that “culture and education contribute to transforming the paradigms of human development” to advance the building of a more just world and a better life for all on earth.

Dr Abdul Sattar Edhi is one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan through his Edhi Foundation, which he created in 1957. A non-profit social welfare programme with over 300 centres across Pakistan, the foundation provides the needy with medical aid, family planning, emergency assistance and education. It sets up maternity homes, mental asylums, homes for the physically handicapped, blood banks and orphanages, among other services. Branches in several other countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia etc.) bring relief to refugees and other victims of strife and natural disasters. Dr Edhi is renowned for his active stand against extremism and his support of human rights as well as for his humanitarian efforts.

In his acceptance speech, Dr Abdul Sattar Edhistressed that he was honoured to receive the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize and to share it with Mr Houtart. Dr Edhi donated the amount of the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize to the Edhi Foundation, an institution which he created more than 50 years ago in his quest for alleviating the sufferings of those who are poor, depressed and vulnerable. Today the Edhi Foundation is the largest welfare Programme in Pakistan based on the funds donated by individuals. Dr Edhi said “My dream is of a Pakistan as a modern welfare State which provides social safety net for the underprivileged and the vulnerable”. He launched an appeal to the developed countries to support the efforts of developing countries to eliminate hunger, poverty, unemployment and diseases in order to eradicate terrorism and extremism. In conclusion, Dr Edhi declared that he believes that the call launched by the new Director-General of UNESCO Ms Irina Bokova for a new humanism for the 21st century will help the world to build sustainable, inclusive, just and equitable societies. The concept of the new humanism is “the epitome of my mission”, said Dr Edhi and stressed that he looks forward to work together with UNESCO in the realization of these ideals.

UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for Tolrence and Non Violence   UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for Tolrence and Non Violence

Two Honourable Mentions were awarded to the St. Petersburg Government Programme on Tolerance (Russian Federation) and to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

The Saint Petersburg Government Programme on Tolerance received the honourable mention for its constructive efforts to inculcate mutual respect and tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and prevent all forms of discrimination. Ms Eleonora Mitrofanova, Ambassador of the Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO, conveyed the thanks on behalf of Ms Valentina Matvienko, the Governor of Saint Petersburg. In her Message, Ms Matvienko assured the audience that the engagement of the Saint Petersburg Government Programme on Tolerance, which is consistent with the Declaration of the Principles on Tolerance adopted by UNESCO, will be further developed and expressed hope that this experience might inspire other cities to undertake similar activities.

The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool was rewarded for its efforts to commemorate the lives and deaths of millions of enslaved Africans, and for its work to fight against legacies of slavery such as racism, discrimination, inequalities, injustice and exploitation, as well as against contemporary forms of slavery. Richard Benjamin, the Museum’s director, received the honorary diploma and expressed his heartfelt gratitude for the award of the Honorable Mention of the 2009 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize which, in his words, “allows the museum to continue being a campaigning human rights museum with an even greater enthusiasm and sense of purpose than ever before”. Dr Benjamin underlined in his acceptance speech that since the opening of the museum on 23 August 2007, the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, over 850,000 people have visited its world class display galleries. Speaking about the museum’s human rights mission, he stressed that it “is an interesting yet challenging and thought provoking museum – indeed, a campaigning museum with the aim of wanting visitors to ‘get involved’ and to actively challenge the continuing legacies of transatlantic slavery, such as racism and discrimination; global economic inequalities and various forms of human bondage, on leaving the museum”. Dr Benjamin presented the museum’s joint project with the Anthony Walker Foundation as the most poignant example of the museum’s successful education and community based human rights activities. In conclusion, Dr Benjamin announced that in 2010 the International Slavery Museum will take the lead in the establishment of a new international museum initiative called the Federation for International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) which will enable museums that deal with sensitive and controversial subjects such as transatlantic slavery, the holocaust and human rights to work together and share new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment.

The award ceremony ended with the address of the founder of the Prize, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh who warmly congratulated the laureates of the 2009 Prize and pointed out that the ceremony was held on a very symbolic day - the day when UNESCO celebrates its sixty-fourth anniversary and the international community marks International Day for Tolerance. The ceremony also coincides with the time when the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ambassador Madanjeet Singh observed that “the euphoria the fall of the wall created among the people of a united Germany proved there is no such thing as permanent enmity among nations – that peace is forged horizontally as well as top down but basically from the bottom up. The event heralded the triumph of multiculturalism over selfish unilateral schemes”. In concluding, Madanjeet Singh expressed his deep satisfaction with the election of the first woman in the history of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, to the post of the Director-General of the Organization and wished her every success in this important work.

Dedicated to advancing the spirit of tolerance, the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize is awarded every two years to individuals or institutions for outstanding contributions to the promotion of tolerance and non-violence in education, culture, science and communication. The amount of the Prize is $100,000. The Prize is funded by the South Asia Foundation, established by the Indian writer and diplomat Madanjeet Singh, who is also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

Videos on the Edhi Foundation and interview with François Houtart