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11 July, 2008
Cornelio Sommaruga

Cornelio Sommaruga

Going to war is always a setback, stressed Cornelio Sommaruga, former President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, when he addressed students at the London School of Economics on 8 November.

Cornelio Sommaruga

Cornelio Sommaruga

Dr Sommaruga, who was also President of Initiatives of Change International, urged his student audience to be involved in the ‘search and engagement for a greed-free, fear-free and hate-free world’, in the words of IofC’s founder Frank Buchman.

War was ‘a failure for democracy, development and understanding: a defeat for the whole of humanity,’ he said in his speech on ‘Globalizing responsibility for human security’, given at the invitation of the LSE’s Swiss students society. ‘The belligerent attitude of some world powers threatens the foundations of world coexistence and international law,’ he said.

But he also stressed that ‘no reasons can justify terrorism’, and there could be no neutrality in the fight against it. This was a fight for humanity to defend its liberal principles, in which there could be no middle ground. 9/11 was ‘an attack on all of humanity’, and terrorists ‘have to be brought to justice’.

Sommaruga posed the question, ‘What did we miss in the past?’ that gave rise to terrorism. He quoted the words of the Human Security Network: ‘As the international community faces the implications of these tragic events, we must recognize that innovative approaches are needed to address growing sources of global insecurity.’ Sommargua described this statement, made in 2001, not as ‘a call to arms, neither a call for retaliation or revenge’ but ‘a call for responsibility’ between nations. No single country could act as the policeman or the benefactor of the entire world, he stressed.

Even in 1993, the United Nations Development Programme had said that the individual needed to be placed at the centre of international affairs. A UNDP report had stated that ‘the concept of security must change, from an exclusive stress on national security to a much greater stress on people’s security’—from armaments and territorial security to food, employment and environmental security. ‘The prevention of conflict begins and ends with the promotion of human security and human development,’ Sommaruga stressed.

This included addressing the threat to the world’s environment and he congratulated the Nobel Peace Prize committee for awarding this year’s prize to former Vice-President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr Sommaruga avoided directly mentioning the contentious issue of securing oil and natural gas supplies. But he said that ‘increased competition for scarce resources contributes to unstable political structures and favours eruption of conflicts.’ Many of the apparently senseless violent conflicts and acts of terrorism became ‘markedly more transparent when such roots are explored’, he said.

He continued that there could be no security without economic development. While globalization had certainly benefitted people in developing countries, ‘market fundamentalism has created a large exclusion of people from global mega-competition’. ‘The world cannot afford to continue living with one fifth rich, two fifths in abject poverty and another two fifths struggling for a decent life.’

Dr Sommaruga emphasised the role of each individual ‘in the evolution of society where moral principles have to prevail’. Such principles included solidarity, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and respect for human dignity. But, he concluded, ‘the use of religion in promoting extremism and violence and in justifying discrimination and exclusion has to be strongly rejected’. There could be no peace without justice or without forgiveness and compassion. ‘Together we can make a world of difference… we have to be prepared to act with courage and determination, aware of the need to globalize responsibility for human security.’

The previous evening, the Swiss ambassador in London, Dr Alexis Lautenberg, gave a dinner reception in honour of Dr Sommaruga, which included several representatives from Initiatives of Change.

Michael Smith

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