Seoul Peace Prize

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Mr. Lee Chul-Seung Chairman of the Seoul Peace Prize Cultural foundation, Mr. Speaker, Minister, distinguished guests, it is a great honour to accept this award on behalf of Oxfam. For me it is with particular humility that I accept the award because I have only been director of Oxfam GB for a year and a half. The award has been given for the work that has been done by so many staff and volunteers over many years and it really is a tribute to them.
  I mention volunteers in particular. You may not know, but Oxfam has 23,000 volunteers working in Great Britain, particularly in our shops, and it is those people over the years who have made such a contribution to the organisation. The other group of people I would like to mention are our individual donors. In Great Britain we have 600,000 individuals who contribute to Oxfam regularly month by month. We are particularly grateful for this support from ordinary people, because it is this money that gives us the freedom to operate, the freedom to move very quickly in times of emergency, but also our ability to speak up independently to governments and international institutions. The strength of Oxfam comes from that massive donor base.
  We are particularly pleased that this award is called the peace prize. Oxfam is engaged throughout the world in areas of conflict. Many of the humanitarian situations where we are called in to help are in the midst of or result from conflict. In a number of areas of the world where we work, people have not known peace for a generation. The suffering of these people is immense and perhaps the saddest part is that so many children in those communities are growing up with no education, no opportunities and probably with hate in their hearts.
  But I want to mention one place that I visited recently, where there is much more positive work going on, on conflict resolution. On September the 4th, the day this award was announced, I was visiting our programme in the North of Mali, about 1,000 miles from the capital. This programme works with the various pastoralist groups who criss-cross this area, particularly the Tuaregs. In the early 90s, there were rebellions and there was repression by the government to control those rebellions, and a great refugee exodus. Fortunately, this was resolved and people began coming back. What was so impressive to me was that the people that I met said that they realised that the country was on the verge of civil war and that this was not right for any of them. They said that if there was to be peace then the different ethnic groups would have to learn how to live together. A lot of the disputes had been about the pasturelands, access to waterholes and to wells as people moved their animals around a very barren desert area.
  The various chiefs of the groups decided that they would meet. They did and began reaching agreements on who should use what and who had what rights. Now the thing that was particularly impressive to me is that these people are very, very poor, with few physical resources available to them, and very little by way of education or health support at all. The people decided that if there was to be peace, then the refugees that were coming back would need animals to rebuild their herds again. The communities told aid agencies which were the poorest families, and therefore which families should get goats and cows to start to rebuild their herds. It was remarkable that people who had been fighting each other and who are amongst the poorest in the world, should decide in the interest of peace that they would share out their pasture lands, their watering holes and would also allow aid agencies to give to the poorest first in order that peace could be re-established in the area.
  That is an incredible lesson in the generosity of people, I can only say that I hope that that is a lesson that those of us that live in very wealthy countries can take to heart. To realise that we can live in peace in the world means giving something, but we have plenty to give. It is also important that those communities recognised that the only way to get peace was for the leaders to sit down and work out how people could have enough. Again, that is a message to our world leaders not to be pushed by the greed and selfishness of their own countries, but to recognise that even for their own countries to have security in the long-term means really looking at the interests of the whole world.
  Sometimes though we are not always going to achieve peace very easily and in these situations - and sadly there are still many - we need more action to protect people from violence. At Oxfam we believe very strongly in the need for international humanitarian law to be held to even in times of war. In recent years we have seen civilians suffering from war more and more. It's not just the armed forces who bear the brunt of war, it is civilians. Civilians are hurt by the bombs that fall, by the landmines that remain, but also of course what we see is the complete disruption of societies so that people are displaced and have nothing. But in the midst of even these wars we can hold to the principles that were written in the Geneva conventions after the second world war. Speaking on behalf of Oxfam, I ask that all governments should provide the strongest support for international humanitarian law, making sure that civilians are not targeted, but most importantly also that civilians have access to their needs for daily life, that they have access to water, that they have access to food. In Oxfam we have been inordinately saddened by the support from Western governments for breaches in humanitarian law and the refugee conventions and also the blind eye turned towards other countries and armed groups that are breaching those laws.
  So Oxfam works a great deal on issues of peace and conflict and as I've said we see remarkable examples of ordinary people who set the example for us all. The other way that I see ordinary people showing the example is the extent to which they cope, and their resourcefulness, even where there is great poverty. Thank goodness we have lost the impression that somehow poor people must have done something wrong to be poor and that therefore they do not deserve aid. What Oxfam has come to realise over the years is that a great deal of poverty is caused by the rules of the world which really do operate in favour of those that are already rich. In particular we know that it is not just aid that poor countries need, but it really is good trading rules. Oxfam GB working within the Oxfam International family has been undertaking a major campaign, "Make Trade Fair" to focus on the rules that need to be changed. There are so many double standards in operation. In Europe and the United States, farmers receive massive subsidies and yet those same governments are saying to poor countries, "you should liberalise your markets and there should be no subsidies." We see people in those Northern countries producing vast quantities of subsidised goods that are then dumped into poor people's markets, putting them out of business. For example sugar going into Africa which is ruining the possibilities for Mozambique sugar farmers. We see a cup of coffee that you buy in a cafe in the North or in Seoul and we see the price that's paid at the farm gate for that same cup of coffee, less even than the cost of production of that coffee. We know that that cannot be right. Those rules of trade do not give poor people an opportunity to get out of poverty despite their incredible hard work and efforts. So let's not blame poor people for being poor, let's really work to look at the world trade rules and change them so that poor people have a chance to get out of poverty and to use their enormous personal strength and resourcefulness to do that.
  It is then a great pleasure to know that the sorts of work that Oxfam has done have been recognised by the Seoul Peace Committee. This peace prize brings recognition that the things that Oxfam stands for are truly important in the world. The recognition that we are all equal and that we all have rights to food, water, our ability to gain our own livelihood and to have a say in how we run our lives. The award of this prize gives us a tremendous sense of support for what we are trying to achieve, I know that it gives all our staff and supporters a sense that all their efforts and energy is really worthwhile because there are other people out there standing in support of them too.
  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.