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Nobel peaceniks sowing seeds of non-violence

Nov 16, 2009

In a discussion held recently in India’s national capital, Nobel Peace Prize winners emphasised on the need for peace in today's world. They felt that that if the humanity wants to reap the harvest of peace and justice, there is a need to sow seeds of non violence, reports Swapna Majumdar.

New Delhi: On August 10, 1976, a shooting incident between a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British army patrol in Belfast, Ireland, led to the accidental death of three young children, one as young as six weeks, and severely injuring their mother. This devastating loss of her nephews and niece and her sister's injuries had a deep impact on Mairead Maguire.

However, instead of retaliating, she pushed for an end to the violence with the help of non-violence and co-founded, with Betty Williams, the Women for Peace, an organisation to encourage the peaceful resolution of foment in Northern Ireland. By the end of the month they brought 35,000 people on to the streets of Belfast petitioning for peace between the IRA and the British army.

This sustained act of courage in the face of adversity won her and Williams the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, making Maguire the youngest winner then at the age of 32. But Maguire's vision that a peaceful and just society could be achieved only through nonviolent means was not well received in Ireland in the 1980s and early 1990s and she was constantly subjected to ridicule. But she did not give up even after her sister committed suicide and continued to advocate for non-violence.

Recently in New Delhi to participate in a discussion jointly organised by the Foundation for Non violent Alternatives, Bureau of HH the Dalai Lama and the India International Centre, on whether non-violence could negotiate peace in today's world, Maguire said: "Mahatma Gandhi has shown us that problems can be solved by non-violence. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that violence is a preventable disease. We have to disarm our own minds and peace will be possible. If we want to reap the harvest of peace and justice in the future we will have to sow seeds of non violence, here and now, in the present. The Tibetan people, especially the Dalai Lama, has given the world an example to follow, they are a model of non-violence."

Echoing her sentiments is Jody Williams, a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the award with her.

Both women came to India along with Shirin Ebadi, who won the peace prize in 2003, to express solidarity with the Dalai Lama on his 50 years of exile and to launch the Thank You Tibet! campaign.

At the crossroads

Commenting on the recent incident where US president, Barack Obama declined to meet Dalai Lama in Washington in order to appease the Chinese, Williams said that as an American citizen, she found this appalling. "The Dalai Lama is a symbol of so many things including the possibility of the dissolution of China. Otherwise, would China demonise him? It is playing politics with India and with the spiritual leader," she asserted.

Williams added that she found it difficult to accept that violence was inevitable. "When I think of sustainable peace it comes from non-violent movements as those led by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. It might not be sexy or glamorous but it works. I think it is a choice. We are at the crossroads. If this moment is not seized, it will be a moment lost."

It was to ensure that the "moment" was not lost that the Nobel Women's Initiative (NWI) was born. In 2006, Williams teamed up with five women Nobel peace laureates Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Maguire and Betty Williams, to institute the NWI. "Despite the fact that the majority of the Nobel laureates are men, they made no effort to come together and pursue peace. We six women decided to bring together our extraordinary experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality because we believe women's rights are central to peace and human rights.

Only 12 women in its more than 100 year history have been bestowed with the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a great honour, but it is also a great responsibility. It is this sense of responsibility that compelled us to create the NWI to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world, work often carried out in the shadows with little recognition," informed Williams.

End violence against women

In June this year, Maguire and other human rights activists travelled on the Free Gaza fishing boat, accompanied by a sister boat called the Spirit of Humanity on the Free Gaza Movement Mission to deliver aid to the people of Gaza.

The boats were carrying construction materials, three tons of medical supplies and suitcases full of children's toys – all items banned by the Israeli government. Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and teargas at a non-violent protest against the separation wall near the West Bank village of Bilin. Several protesters were injured including Maguire, who was shot with a rubber bullet.

"It was because we believe that peace means a world free of physical, economic, cultural, political, religious, sexual and environmental violence and the constant threat of these forms of violence against women, that we sailed to Gaza to break the cruel siege by the Israeli government, and to show the people of Gaza, particularly women, that the world does care what is happening to them," said Maguire.

The NWI has also sent an open letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urging him to do everything in his power to protect women from the war being staged on women's bodies in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Moreover they, together with the Women's League of Burma and others, are considering creating an international Peoples Tribunal on crimes and human rights abuses in Mynmar, with particular emphasis on women's civil, political, social and economic rights and to step up pressure for the release of Nobel laureate Daw Aang San Suu Kyi. The Tribunal would feature prominent human rights experts, judges, Nobel Peace laureates, and activists from within and outside Burma, and would hold hearings in 2010.

Both Williams and Maguire are unyielding when it comes to opting for non violent solutions to end violence. The NWI believes everything is possible and will continue to use their influence to change political discourse, educate and pressurise governments. Williams said: "Who knows when change will come about? What we do know is that it will happen when people are empowered to believe that change is possible. And that is what we are trying to do."

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