On the occasion of the presentation of the 2011 Dwight D. Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service
Louise Arbour | 19 May 2011
Speech by Louise Arbour, President & CEO of the International Crisis Group on the occasion of the presentation of the 2011 Dwight D. Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service to the International Crisis Group at the Rittenhouse, Philadelphia, Thursday 19 May 2011.
I am delighted to be here on this happy occasion, and very honoured to be representing the International Crisis Group as the recipient of the prestigious Eisenhower Medal for Distinguished Leadership and Service. I speak of course on behalf of our Board of Trustees, our staff from all over the world, and our Council members whose support over the years has so importantly contributed to getting us to where we are today.
This award is particularly significant for us as we are the first organisation to receive it. Like the Eisenhower fellows we recognize the importance of personal leadership. How could we not, with the legacy of President Dwight Eisenhower a constant reminder of the impact of his personal contribution, and in the presence of one of the great contemporary American leaders, General Colin Powell. Both of them embody the very best in the tradition of public service, and exceptionally so in transforming their military skills into even larger political and diplomatic achievements. And of course we stand in the line of remarkable previous recipients of this award, including another General, two presidents and five secretaries of states.
So it is both humbling, and yet immensely encouraging for our organisation to be acknowledged in this fashion. And I believe that it represents a turning point in the recognition of civil society actors in the field of conflict prevention, and more broadly in the area of international peace and security.
If I may be allowed a more personal footnote. When I was appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2004, General Powell chased me all the way to Australia by phone to congratulate me on my appointment. Not only was this a very gracious gesture, but it help set the tone for what was going to be a difficult but always respectful relationship between my then office and the U.S. government in the following 4 years. I should also point out that no one else, not even my own Canadian government, felt the need to congratulate me, probably out of a sense that you had to be slightly out of your mind to quit the Supreme Court of Canada to join Kofi Annan on some human rights adventure.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In his 1961 famous farewell address to the Nation President Eisenhower said this:
'Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield'.
Coming from someone who had stared down fascism on the battlefield this call for political and diplomatic engagement is a blueprint for the conflict prevention efforts that Crisis Group is profoundly committed to.
We are a field-based, non-governmental and non-profit organisation that identifies and analyses the drivers of emerging conflicts, designs policies to control them, and seeks to persuade, through direct and indirect advocacy, political decision makers in the countries, in the region, in Washington, New York, Brussels and, frankly, in any forum susceptible to being mobilized into action.
The founders of Crisis Group include your recent award winner, former Senator George Mitchell, career Ambassador Mort Abramowitz, the late Congressman Steve Solarz, and former head of UNDP Mark Malloch-Brown. I believe that they were outraged by the political and moral failures of the early 1990s, the wilful blindness that allowed the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleaning in the former Yugoslavia to unfold almost unchallenged. And they believed, quite radically at that time, that international peace and security could therefore no longer be left as the sole preserve of state actors. Although I understand that they were met with some scepticism at the outset, the International Crisis Group now covers over 60 countries or situations of actual or potential conflict, producing high quality analysis with a small but incredibly talented staff of 130, comprising more than 46 nationalities and who speak 53 different languages. We publish some 80 reports each year - all available on our website www.crisisgroup.org - about 2 million of which are downloaded each year. We benefit as well from a Board of Trustees that includes former heads of state from nearly every continent.
Not surprisingly, we are hard at work in North Africa and the Middle East. At no other time in recent history has there been as much hope and promise for the people of the Arab world to obtain the full enjoyment of their rights as citizens. Even though the various uprisings in the region are not all cut from the same cloth, the main thing they have in common is the amazing demonstration of the idea that rights withheld will be taken, not just claimed. That idea is at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which holds that:
…it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights be protected by the rule of law.
Here, the people of Tunisia, of Egypt, of Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere are taking back from their authoritarian masters their fundamental right to self-determination which encompasses all their basic human rights and freedoms, under the unifying idea that they are the masters of their own destiny. It is the beginning proposition not only in the UN Charter but in the fundamental human rights instruments:
All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
In our efforts to accompany their legitimate aspirations we attempt to articulate the most peaceful yet effective route to secure their objectives. We have already published a series of reports analysing the particular configuration of each rebellion, searching for the path to democracy and justice peculiar to each environment. While we do so, we continue our long term engagement in some seemingly intractable conflicts, including those who appear to go dormant, to fall below the international radar, until something produces a spark of interest. We have for years extensively covered Sudan, and have been engaged on the South Sudan referendum process way before it became fashionable again mid last year. We have produced over 30 reports on the DRC, and we have never left the Balkans. Meanwhile, Crisis Group has become the leading authority on Jihadist movements in Indonesia and in the region more broadly, an advocate for the de-escalation of the simmering conflict in Nagorna Karabach, a voice of concern for the alarming deterioration of the economic and political infrastructure of Central Asia, and a prescriptive player in the dangerous stalemate in Zimbabwe, to refer to just a sample of our ongoing work.
The tremendous accolade that we are receiving today is therefore a validation of 15 years of commitment to the fundamental idea that peace and security represent a truly international public interest. I believe that we represent the best efforts of people outside government pooling together their ideas, their energy, their money and their hard work to the prevention, mitigation and resolution of deadly conflict. On behalf of my colleagues and of all those who continue to support our efforts, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Chair, the President and the Trustees of the Eisenhower Fellowships for this splendid award.
Thank you for your kind attention.