Recent events in Sweden, Finland and Latvia
2019 Raoul Wallenberg Address
“Press freedom is the freedom upon which all others stand”
The theme of the 2019 Raoul Wallenberg Address was the courage in defence of media freedoms. Mr Martin Schibbye, Swedish journalist and editor-in-chief of Blankspot, delivered the keynote address.
In his speech, Mr Schibbye reflected on the increasing crackdown on media freedoms, and threats and violence against journalists worldwide. He argued that international conventions that have helped and protected journalists in war and peace have lost their respect. He said that “a rise in the number of messy conflicts, lack of resources at media companies and, most important of all, an insight among states, militias and armies that violence against journalists works, have come together to create a perfect storm.”
A broad, diverse crowd gathered at Fryshuset in Stockholm to listen to Mr Schibbye’s speech titled “How do we put an end to the hunting season on journalists?”
Mr Schibbye laid out a compelling case for collective action in solidarity with targeted and imprisoned journalists. Referring to the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, he said that while Mr Wallenberg was a man of breath-taking courage, saving thousands of lives, it would not have been possible without clerks printing the safety passes, drivers, translators, and the political leadership behind the scenes creating the mission in the first instance. “It takes a crowd to be brave and it does not erupt from a vacuum.” And he said we need to focus on the present, inspired the past.
“If we are going to stop the hunting season on journalists and human right defenders we need to step up for them when they need our support the most. When they are arrested; when they are in jail; when they are pushing the boundaries. It is then that they need our words of solidarity – not 70 years later, not at the funeral, as with Nelson Mandela. Not when it is all over and it is time to share the glory or mourn the dead. ”
Watch the entire lecture here or read the full transcript of Mr Schibbye’s speech below.
The 2019 Raoul Wallenberg Address was organised by the Australian Embassy in Sweden, Fryshuset, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian law and Raoul Wallenberg Academy.
How do we put an end to the hunting season on journalists?
Martin Schibbye, 5 June 2019, Fryshuset
Ladies and gentlemen – members of the press. Members of the diplomatic community, youngsters, fellow terrorist-sentenced colleague.
I am deeply honoured to have been invited by the Australian Embassy, and in particular Ambassador Kenna, to deliver this Wallenberg Address.
But believe me I really wish I did not have to do this.
This morning, I thought, what if I get a phone call from Asmara, Eritrea and a cracked voice says: “I am free. I am coming home.” This did not happen. This morning, instead, the Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak woke up in his cell. 6464 days after his arrest in September 2001. So did 251 colleagues. I am here today on behalf of Dawit, and other colleagues, that should be with us in this room today.
A couple of months ago I met his daughter, Bethlehem. She told me about the last time she remembered seeing her father. She was seven years old and had heard a loud bang against the blue steel door, just outside her family house in Asmara, Eritrea.
Outside were two men with dark glasses. She studied them carefully. And thought that they were friends of her father. “Is Isaak here they asked?” – “There is no Isaak here but Dawit is here” her mother, Sofia, called from the kitchen. Bethlehem remembers showing the men inside, past the lemon tree, the grapes and pottery with plants.
Sofia asked the men to join them for breakfast. Dawit was still asleep and she called out his name to wake him up. He was always a heavy sleeper. A “workaholic”, who was always either reading or writing something. Often a little absent. Always with an article on his mind. A week earlier his newspaper’s permission to print had been withdrawn after they had published a call for democracy from an opposition group. His colleagues had gone into hiding. But Dawit had told his family that there was no need to worry, they would soon be up and running again. And besides – in the drawer were his and his families Swedish passports. If something did happen the Swedish cavalry would be there for him.
After a while Dawit entered the kitchen. The concrete floor was still cold. Sofia served tea and hot bread. Bethlehem studied her father – he looked calm – and that calmed her. Her mother put out oranges, bananas, ham, and Italian cheese, ricotta from the family’s own cheese factory – Casa de Formagio - on the table. Then she served cappuccinos. Only after the men had finished their meal did they tell Dawit he had to come with them. “I will be back soon” Dawit said to his family, and turned to go with the men. Just before passing the blue iron door, he froze suddenly, and turned back to yell – “Take care of my children, make sure they go to school.” That was 18 years ago.
Today we should honour him, not only for enduring more than 6000 days in jail – but above all, for the journalism that led him there. Dawit Isaak’s contribution to bringing new blood into the Eritrean media industry has been immense over the years. Together with the staff at Setit, they showed what journalism could and should be, but too often isn’t. His articles were to the point, provocative, they expanded the public sphere and signalled a new beginning that made it easier to breathe for the readers in the new country. But he paid a price for the generations to come. The highest price. He paid with his freedom.
Looking back at Dawit Isaak’s life, we must remember that at many points he faced a choice. He is intelligent, well educated, he could have chosen an easy life, he could have chosen another profession, but love for the truth, for his country, for his fellow human beings, and for Eritrea, made him into journalist. He returned to Eritrea, after spending years in Sweden, to start a newspaper. And there he continued to write. His stubbornness and will demonstrates a brand of moral courage that we need now more than ever. And courage is the only thing he is guilty of.
And even though I am free my own prison, I will never be free from the memories, or the sounds. The first screams were always the worst. The frightened sounds just before the first strike, but towards the end, the abused prisoner was always silent. The sound of torture. Six disease-ridden cells around a small yard, filled with inmates coughing blood, overridden with lice, fleas and rats, were called “Sheraton” by the inmates because, even if it was bad, the small dark cells where humans were kept like animals - standing chained in the dark, hanged upside town, and beaten until they confessed their made up crimes - was worse. The inmates called these cells “Hilton”. Humour is the last line of defence.
Yesterday was Eid, and I will never forget when the inmates celebrated Eid in prison. The late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, had just passed away and the prison was buzzing with different rumours. In the evening, in the Kality prison café, there was whispering about Muslim leaders being arrested, and police officers being killed. Someone claimed to have seen tanks rolling past outside the prison. Nobody knew what was going on. On the TV images of riot police and demonstrators flickered by. The fundamental issue seemed to be that the country’s Muslims where demanding their constitutional right to religious freedom, and that they should be able to choose their own leaders.
The government was responding with violence, arrests and crazy documentaries. Then came the decree: prayer was no longer permitted in the prison. You could hear a pin drop in the room. I remember that despite the tense situation, the Muslims in the room collected money for the purchase of a large, beautifully woven blue and white prayer rug. They dressed up in their best clothes. And as the sun sank outside the tin shack, they surged through the big cell packed with 200 prisoners in silence. Then, suddenly a young man from Mali dressed in a white tunic and traditional headdress stood up. Wearing silk from top to toe, he took a deep breath. Then he started to sing an almost bluesy song: “Allah humma innaka a’fuvun tohib bul afva fa’afu anni…” Another prisoner translated: “We pray to Allah, our forgiving God, that He should forgive us and show us mercy.”
I remember that the muezzin put every fiber of his being into that song, and men from India to the east, to Senegal in the west, rested their foreheads against the cold cement floor and dreamt of their pilgrimage. Shoulder to shoulder, barefoot on the rug. They called out into the night, about the time that was fleeing from them, about the peace of God. They did not pray for freedom, they prayed to become better human beings so that Allah could forgive them. Their faith was stronger than their fear of the committees and the guards. They ignored the ban in praying. And it all became crystal clear. It was not the police officers that kept us calm. It was the geography of fear.
The fear of not being released. The fear of becoming sick. The fear of torture and death. The inmates praying that night were not afraid of anything but God. I will never forget them. That evening, they helped us all in the large cell keep our dignity and humanity. I will never forget their courage.
After my own release I gave a lot of thought to who would be the next person to stand trial for doing their job if this development was not stopped. After a year I got the answer: On Al-Jazeera. From Egypt when Peter Greste and his colleagues were arrested. What was referred to ten years ago as a “wolf at the door” argument, namely that terror laws could be used against journalists has now become a brutal reality in an increasing number of countries. The war on terror has turned into a war on journalism. The Arabic Spring turned into an early African Autumn. Imprisoning journalists with draconian legislation seems to be a cheap form of censorship without any consequences.
And to tell you the truth, now back in the field, I am more afraid of lawyers than of landmines. If one more country gets away with prosecuting journalists, none of us will be safe any longer. The rubber-band legislation created to get at terrorists is being abused in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and China to silence, persecute and incarcerate inconvenient voices. The USA is also plummeting like a stone in press freedom rankings, as a result of its increasingly aggressive pursuit of whistle-blowers. And last night, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s offices in Sydney were searched by the federal police over an article based on leaked military documents.
The majority of those imprisoned globally – 70 percent – are facing anti-state charges, national security laws, such as belonging to or aiding groups deemed by authorities as terrorist organizations. And yes, terrorism is a serious threat to our societies. They can kill us as happened here in Stockholm at Drottninggatan and they can blow up buildings. But it is only us as a nation, our own parliament, which can destroy our own hard fought press freedom and democracy. And we must ask ourselves. In the future, will foreign correspondents dare interview terror-stamped groups such as the Afghani Taliban, the Hezbollah in Lebanon or al-Shabaab in Somalia?
We need these voices, so that our global understanding of issues is not cut in half. I am not saying it was better in the old days. This has always been a dangerous profession. Since the first AP correspondent Mr Kellog rode with General Custer to the Battle of Little Big Horn – we have been shot and killed.
But I would dare to say that we now face a new situation: International conventions that have helped and protected us in war and peace have lost their respect. More messy conflicts, a lack of resources at the media companies, and most important of all, an insight among states, militias and armies that violence against journalists works, has created a perfect storm.
In a situation where every rebel group has their own YouTube channel and every state a propaganda machine, a neutral observer becomes a threat to all the actors at play. By killing the messenger they can silence the message. Jailed, beheaded or shot, colleagues are soon every day news. We are slowly getting used to the extreme. And its not only foreign correspondents who face this situation. In Europe we have had several colleagues murdered last year. Every time a colleague is jailed or attacked, the world should go Bonanza. We must find this strength. It should be as if they tried to fry panda bear at the zoo. It should be a crime against humanity. A war crime. I know this might sound a bit grand. But I am really not neutral in this issue. It is personal.
Press freedom is the freedom upon which all others stand. And I think that if the Geneva Convention was written today, the journalistic mission would have been better protected. But with that said, there is a lot to do in our own backyard too.
I remember back in 2009, when I visited the massacre site on the island Mindanao in the Philippines where 34 colleagues were killed on their way to a press conference. Outside the National Press Club of the Philippines there is a monument that says “journalists know how to die”. But there was also a debate after the massacre where many colleagues wanted to arm themselves, since the state was not protecting them – other said no, now is the time to be even more professional in our reporting than let the criminals check their quotes just as the victims. To not be sloppy, they give the best argument from both the guerrillas in the jungle and the generals. Highlighting the ethics of journalism – was the way to stay alive.
In the horn of Africa, at this time of the year, the start of the rainy season is burning hot in the daytime and freezing cold at night. I don’t know what Dawit Isaak’s prison looks like. But I know from my own experiences that – the one thing – that prisoners of conscience fear more than anything else - is to be forgotten. When you’re locked up that is the greatest fear and the support from the outside is what keeps you going. Speeches, campaigns, awards, will not set him free tomorrow, but it will ease his day today. He will go on with his head held high knowing that he is there for a good cause. That the pain and suffering has a meaning. That he is on the frontline in a fight that has turned global. And in that sense, that is more important than food, medicine and water.
But he is not only a symbol. He is also, and foremost, a human being of flesh and blood. He is a father, with a wife and three kids. To demand his release is also to reunite a family that has suffered more in a mental prison over the years than any one should have to suffer. In a letter smuggled out back in 2005. Dawit Isaak wrote:
Ett förhör trodde jag bara tog 45 minuter, max. Men här tar det minst 45 månader. Utan en enda fråga. Jag vet inte längre varför jag är i fängelse. Tyvärr. Inte tills I dag. Säg inte till någon att du fått det här brevet av mig.
Jag ligger i en flaska, jag tackar dig för att du kämpar för att få ut mig från den här mörka flaskan. ”
When I read these words by Dawit I knew that they will never break him. Because he is at peace with himself. He knows that even though he is robbed of his physical freedom, the freedom to talk or to be silent, the freedom to drink or eat, and even to shit. He knows, as do all prisoners of conscience, that you have it in you to keep the most valuable freedom, the freedom that nobody can take from you, the freedom to determine who you want to be. And Dawit Isaak is a journalist. And every day he wakes up is just another day at the office.
At last year’s address, Dr Helen Durham said in her speech that Mr Wallenberg was a man of breath-taking courage, but she also pointed out that he was not alone. And I find this to be a key point when talking about Raoul Wallenberg’s legacy today. It takes a crowd to be brave and it does not erupt from a vacuum. His actions saved thousands of lives but it would not have been possible without clerks printing the safety passes, drivers, translators, and the political leadership behind the scenes creating the mission in the first instance. Secondly, today we are all behind him – but that was not the case during the 1940’s and I think that if we are going to stop the hunting season on journalists and human right defenders we need to step up for them when they need our support the most.
When they are arrested; when they are in jail; when they are pushing the boundaries. It is then that they need our words of solidarity – not 70 years later, not at the funeral as with Nelson Mandela. Not when it is all over and it is time to share the glory or mourn the dead. Let’s not turn memories into mausoleums. And this is what I appreciated with the work that many of you do in the broad Raoul Wallenberg movement of today. That you are focused on the present, inspired by the past. And there is a lot we can do. Publish colleagues smuggled-out articles in our newspapers and give them a voice, send our newspapers to the prison and give their guards a gentle reminder that we are watching – let the censor work overtime. Write letters to imprisoned colleagues.
And there is for sure a growing movement for press freedom. The hundreds of letters we received in Kality. The hundred of thousands of tweets defending the Al Jazeera staff in Egypt. The support for the colleagues in Burma recently. It shows that they can jail journalists but they can never succeed in jailing journalism. Peter Greste has said that whatever happens from here, we must not lose this extraordinary experience of solidarity. And I think that is a key lesson. To fight for the jailed and killed as one.
And when I think of Dawit Isaak who is jailed, between walls of corrugated steel I feel sick to the stomach. But then I see his smile and I think that at the end of the day, it’s not us that are fighting for his freedom – but rather he who is fighting for ours.
2018 Raoul Wallenberg Address
“The Real Power of Hope: That It Has a Contagion Effect”
The first inaugural Raoul Wallenberg Address delivered by Dr Helen Durham AO, Director of International Law and Policy of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Dr Helen Durham AO argued in a recent speech in Stockholm that history teaches us that many of the seemingly impossible challenges we face today in fact are not new. She said that falling into fear will only limit our capacity to react accordingly and that there is today an urgent need for courage as “the implementation of hope.”
A big, varied crowd gathered at Stockholm’s Army Museum to listen to Dr Durham’s speech titled, “Courage in complex times: looking backwards going forward.”
She called for courage, in line with the kind of “sheer bloody guts” that Raoul Wallenberg himself is so well-known for. And she said we need to restore belief in international humanitarian law, law that regulates the conduct of war.
"Is cynicism the luxury of those who do not experience a Red Cross parcel, a family member traced or reduced exposure to the impact of war because of the implementation of IHL training? We need the courage (and the hope) to strengthen our beliefs with a long lens"
The first inaugural Raoul Wallenberg Address on 1st June 2018 was initiated by the Australian Embassy in Sweden in order to mark the 5-year anniversary of granting honorary Australian citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg. In the audience were also holocaust survivors that were saved thanks to the passports handed out by the young Diplomat in Budapest in the 1940’s.
The Address was organised by Australian Embassy in Sweden, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and Raoul Wallenberg Academy.
Watch the entire lecture here or read the transcript below.
Courage in complex times: looking backwards going forward
1 June, Swedish Army Museum.
I am deeply honoured to be invited by the Australian government, and in particular Ambassador Kenna, to deliver the inaugural Wallenberg Address.
Mr Wallenberg was a man of breath-taking courage, whose personal interventions in the close of the World War II saw the survival of up to 100,000 Jewish people in Budapest, Hungary. When the Governor General of Australia bestowed honorary citizenship upon Mr Wallenberg in 2013 our then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard stated:
His legacy ensures. It is measured in the example he set for our own and future generations. But it is also measured in the tens of thousands of deaths he prevented through his actions.
Of the many he saved, an individual called Frank Vajda made it his life work to honour the man who rescued him and his mother. Mr Vajda is an Australia citizen, citing “Australia was the only country compassionate enough – and intelligent enough – to grant us entry and for that I’m forever grateful”. He was instrumental in pushing for the granting of honorary citizenship for Mr Wallenberg, stating that he was the greatest humanitarian of the 20th century and through “his sheer bloody guts in standing up to murderers…he brought people back from the jaws of death”.
Today, in paying tribute to Mr Wallenberg we must acknowledge his legacy as a gift to the living, to the survivors and their descendants, and, by serving as an inspiration, to us all. Indeed, when I was reflecting on what Mr Wallenberg has really given to the world, the word ‘courage’ followed by the word ‘hope’ kept rising in my mind. Thus, I would like to take a moment to pause and briefly examine what courage means, and what courage like Mr Wallenberg’s looks like in today’s world. I would then like to move onto one of the actions of courage (what I would call the implementation of courage) which is hope – something fragile but the strongest bind we humans possess.
Jonathan Kenna, Australias ambassador to Sweden, presenting the lecture
There are many different definitions of courage. It is described as elegance under pressure; the ability to control fear in dangerous situations; and as simply being brave and confident enough to actual do what you believe in.
Aristotle describes a courageous person as someone who “withstands and fears those things which it is necessary [to fear and withstand] and on account of the right reason, and how and when it is necessary to [fear and withstand] them.” From this definition we can highlight two elements. The first is that courage, as described by Aristotle, is not nearly the lack of fear. It is more nuanced than this. By this definition, the courageous person is not reckless. The courageous person both ‘withstands’ and ‘fears’. The second is that the reasons for the act of courage matter. Aristotle’s definition retains the idea that ‘courage’ is linked to the reason of the person. For Aristotle, it is only on account of the ‘right reason’ that someone is courageous.
To these two elements we can add the active nature of courage – that courage calls for action. Hannah Arendt, a German philosopher stripped of her German citizenship in 1937, makes an impassioned plea for courage, because “in politics not life but the world is at stake”. If courage relates to acting out what you believe in, the first step is knowing what we believe in. I hope for all of us in the room that we believe in the intrinsic worth of humanity, the dignity of human beings as human beings. And that each person is entitled to the respect of that dignity at all times, without any adverse distinction based on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinion or any other similar criteria. These are simple but precious principles that reflect what it means to be human.
One of the survivors from Budapest who benefited from the personal intervention of Mr Wallenberg articulates this very point. Susan Tabor stated:
[H]e made me feel human again. For the first time I had hope… he showed us that we were not animals, that someone cared about us. And the point of it was that he came himself, he came personally.
My professional career has been dedicated to international humanitarian law (IHL or the laws of war), of which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been entrusted as guardian. The ICRC values highly the principle of proximity – meaning the importance of ‘coming personally’ and understanding the needs of people we serve by engaging directly with them. In my own experience as a delegate in the field, I found talking to detainees ‘looking each other in the eye’ was extremely rewarding and important.
The Geneva Conventions, ratified by every State, reflect the humanitarian principles. What they say, condensed into over 400 articles, is that what unites us as humans is deeper and more profound than that which divides us. That during the horrors of armed conflict, there is still a space for humanity. The universal ratification is a simple affirmation that the principles are not tied to one religious or cultural code, nor political framework. The Geneva Conventions may have been adopted almost 70 years ago, but these words continue to have life and resonance, in every decision that is made in times of armed conflicts, to protect civilians and respect the human dignity of all.
I often feel, when talking about IHL (be it to armed groups, militaries, politicians or the general public) that indeed we almost need courage today to believe that such law can make a difference. We are surrounded by a ‘discourse of despair’. We see every day on the TV, in the media, on our phones, the terrible and unacceptable images of the laws of war being broken. From Syria to Mali, Afghanistan to Colombia; the targeting of hospitals, the cruel treatment of detainees, the use of sexual violence against women, girls, men and boys as a method of warfare. It is too easy to become deeply cynical about the chance for change or the hope that we can indeed improve the situations.
In the face of such information that tells us every day of instances of disregard of these fundamental principles, can we really say that international law which is over 150 years old is capable of modern application? Are we being idealistic, or worse, naïve in holding these beliefs? Courage – the strengthening of our beliefs to counter the perception of despair – is very much needed.
Helen Durham, Sarah Scheller and Morten Kjaerum
The focus on negative news is understandable. It is often said that no newspaper will ever bear the headline “Plane Arrives Safely”, “Today Prisoner of War treated humanely” or “Correct targeting of military installation saves 1,000s of deaths”. Our attention is drawn to the atrocities, which by definition, stand out and attract our attention.
Further, it can be harder to identify good news. What we are looking for is what did not happen. It is indeed ‘counter-factual’. While these ‘acts of absence’ happen on a daily basis, the reporting is harder, and requires a longer lens than the news cycle allows for.
The natural response to a negative news cycle is despair and can create in us the lasting belief that this is the only story. Psychologists describe this as the availability heuristic. We form our beliefs on the information that is readily available to us. We have to acknowledge that the availability of information has not necessarily translated to greater knowledge. We need to challenge ourselves and others to seek that wider story. We live in a world in which the laws of war have never been better known, better ratified or more voluminous.
Is it perhaps a gap between expectations that we should and can treat each other better, and the volume of negative information and examples that is making us more cynical and darker in our views? The ICRC conducted a survey recently of 17,000 individuals in war torn and ‘peaceful’ countries, and the evidence was stark. Two-thirds of those interviewed globally believed in the principles of IHL. 49% of people living in conflict zones thought that IHL made a difference during conflict, but only 36% of surveyed people from P5 countries and Switzerland considered it helpful. Is cynicism the luxury of those who do not experience a Red Cross parcel, a family member traced or reduced exposure to the impact of war because of the implementation of IHL training.
We need the courage (and the hope) to strengthen our beliefs with a long lens.
Thousands of acts that are consistent with the respect of the dignity of people occur every day, even in the worst possible circumstances. We know globally speaking that the number of people who die in armed conflicts is declining. If we look at the number of battle deaths per 100,000 people, this has declined from almost 300 people per 100,000 at the close of World War II to 1.2 people in 2016. Similarly, while the world continues to see mass killings and genocides, these too have significantly declined from the aftermath of World War II until today. This might be a harder fact to accept, and I do not want to minimise the absolute devastation caused by more recent genocides. But it is the case that numerically, the number of genocidal deaths in recent history is significantly less than that previously.
Struggling with acts of terrorism is another challenge. Every instance of terrorism rightly requires condemnation. At the same time, I think most of us could acknowledge that the real risk to lives posed by terrorism is small in comparison to, for example, car accidents, other forms of violence or common diseases. Globally, for example, 38,422 people died in 2015 from terrorism, while in the same period 1,250,000 people died of car accidents. In Western Europe during the same period (and noting that 2015 was a terrible year for terrorist incidents in Europe), 175 people died from terrorism, while 19,219 people died from car accidents. In fact, it is the nature and purpose of terrorism to cause fear. That our attention is so fixated on the issue of terrorism demonstrates the success – if we can say – of the terrorism model.
The fear that is felt is disproportionate to the risk. This can create the risk in turn of a disproportionate response that dehumanizes people, whether by employing a broad brushed rhetoric that divides or demonizes people, or by the imposition of policies that do not protect the fundamental guarantees owed to people as people. When our ‘fear to fact’ ratio is out, we can be mistaken into considering situations as ‘exceptional’ and therefore requiring ‘exceptional’ responses outside of the framework of the accepted fundamental guarantees.
This is not to discount the serious violations of IHL that occur on a daily basis, resulting in the destruction of people’s lives. The principle of humanity that underpins the Geneva Conventions was recalled in the immediate aftermath of the horrors of World War II, of total war and genocide. This was of course the situation that Mr Wallenberg faced. He himself came to know the situation in Auschwitz upon arrival in Budapest, due to another act of courage, being the smuggling out of the Auschwitz Protocols by two young escapees of the camp.
Today we face new challenges. When the Geneva Conventions were adopted, armed conflicts were primarily between States. Today, we have seen a proliferation of non-international armed conflicts. These armed conflicts are increasingly complex. Parties to armed conflicts often fragment and multiply, and new parties intervene in ongoing conflicts. A ‘conflict trap’ can be created where conflicts themselves generate further conflicts.
Conflicts today last longer. The longevity of conflicts puts a significant strain on the affected countries and their populations. We know that around the world there are children, who become teenagers, who become adults, only having known conflict.
Conflicts are increasingly urbanised as well, posing greater risks to civilians. Fighting in cities is not new, of course, but in most armed conflicts today, civilians bear the brunt of the hostilities, especially when fighting takes place in densely populated areas or when civilians are deliberately targeted. Belligerents often avoid facing their enemy in the open, and instead intermingle with the civilian population. The dangers of urban welfare are not only in the immediate risk to civilians, but the longer term impacts of the destruction of civilian infrastructure – people’s homes, schools, electricity services, sewerage. The consequences in terms of displacement are obvious.
Flutist, Anna Petraškeviča
We need the courage to think that things can get better – this is hope in action. When we meditate on the inherent worth of the fundamental principles, applicable at all times; when we challenge the dominant discourse of the news cycle and take a longer lens; when we face directly the challenges of today with the convictions that our belief in humanity applies at all times; we go boldly. We look the beast in the eye and deny its narrative of negativity. We assert that we can and will respect the dignity of people, and that we can influence others for good, and that we can thereby affect change.
There are two simple application points that can be drawn from this. The first is that there are no exceptional circumstances that warrant deviation from the principles. The dignity of people must be upheld at all times. There will always be challenges that we face – be it any form of extremist ideology. The fundamental principles were recalled at one of the worst points of human history. Humans will always be human, worthy of respect, whatever the time, whatever the politics.
The second, is that upholding the fundamental principles can sometimes be difficult. That is why I wanted to reflect on the word courage.
The real power of hope is that is has a contagion effect. We rightfully reflect on the example of Mr Wallenberg but it is also useful to remember the effect he had on others. It would not have been possible to issue the number of travel passes, to establish the safe houses, to personally intervene in preventing deportations, were it not for donors, clerks printing the passes, drivers, translators, and the political leadership behind the scenes creating the mission in the first instance. Courageous leadership can make the acts of one person multiply.
The active protection campaign launched by Mr Wallenberg gave renewed energy to other organisations and neutral States to follow suit. For example, the issuing of the Swedish passes prompted other neutral States to start to do same. Mr Wallenberg’s active negotiations for protected houses prompted the International Red Cross and other neutral States to press for the same.
The great Martin Luther King Jr once said that courage “breeds creativity.” The world always needs more creativity; in the face of fear and a lack of interest in our fellow beings. What Mr Wallenberg leaves as a legacy is not just lives saved, but a demonstration of the courage it takes to hope for a better world and to risk it all for the most powerful principle which is humanity.
New Raoul Wallenberg Address in Stockholm
The Australian Embassy in Sweden has announced a new event in Stockholm on 1 June to mark the 5-year anniversary of granting honorary Australian citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg.
“Despite much progress, conflict, famine and natural disasters continue to fuel humanitarian crises,” says H.E. Jonathan Kenna, Australian Ambassador to Sweden. “This new annual address gives us a chance to hear from true experts, whose expertise and passion can help renew our commitment to the work necessary to meeting these challenges.”
The inaugural Raoul Wallenberg Address is co-hosted by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and the Raoul Wallenberg Academy.
The speaker of the first Raoul Wallenberg Address will be Dr Helen Durham AO, Director of International Law and Policy of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Her speech is titled “Courage in complex times: looking backwards, going forward.”
Dr Durham will begin by reflecting on the deeds of Raoul Wallenberg during World War. “His actions are clear and obvious examples of courage,” she says. “Today, in an era often perceived to be defined by self-interest, what can we learn from individuals such as Wallenberg?”
Dr Durham will chart the history of courage, unpack the current ‘discourse of despair’ and argue that falling into fear limits our capacity to tackle many of the seemingly impossible challenges we face today.
Raoul Wallenberg is one of only three international humanitarians to be granted honorary Australian citizenship.