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Opening of Les Rencontres de Genève


Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs,

En tant que Président d’honneur des Rencontres de Genève, ça me fait plaisir de vous souhaiter la bienvenue au lancement de ce festival unique.

This celebration of peace and peace-builders takes place 200 years after the Congress of Vienna ended the instability of the Napoleonic wars, and 70 years after the end of the Second World War.

This festival to commemorate these milestones will convene academics, artists and the wider Geneva community in a multi-disciplined and multi-faceted reflection on building peace.

As our host this evening, the city of Geneva continues its long tradition as the seat of peaceful dialogue and international cooperation.

A city grounded in the principles of mutual respect and tolerance, where protagonists to conflicts in all corners of the globe have gathered to resolve their differences, and to build a more peaceful future for their citizens.

This festival is a sobering reminder of the evils of war; the untold human suffering, and the devastating destruction it inflicts on individual families and entire communities.

It reminds us that those who use violence and force can rarely predict its consequences.

But there is a greater message that reinforces a belief I have held for a long time; that no dispute is so entrenched that it cannot be overcome, and enmity between peoples need not last forever.

This is a timely message.

The war in Syria is now entering its fourth year. Instability in Iraq has bred an insurgency of incomprehensible brutality. In Africa, campaigns of violence by Boko Haram and Al-Shabab have devastated entire communities.

The consequences of military intervention in Libya continue to divide and destabilize the country and the region, while failure to resolve the dispute in Ukraine has created an unacceptable stalemate in Europe reminiscent of the Cold War.

The frustration of those working to bring peace to these regions is palpable, as is the desperation and hopelessness of communities trapped by these conflicts.

Such desperation drives thousands to risk the dangerous crossing to Europe’s shores in search of a new and peaceful existence, yet their plight does not receive the necessary attention or compassion.

I worked with UNHCR here in Geneva in the 1980’s, and I recall how Europe’s political leaders, intellectuals and academics rallied to the cause of the boat people fleeing Vietnam.

Jean-Paul Sartre spoke of our “moral duty… to save fellow human beings in danger”; the G7 loudly called for measures to alleviate the refugees’ suffering, and in America, President Carter used his executive authority to almost double the quota of immigrants from South Asia.

Bill Swing, Director of the International organization for Migration, recently highlighted this unfortunate paradox, noting that “Forty years ago our leaders pulled together to help migrants in dire straits. Today the sight of migrants in distress is pulling our leaders apart.”

Such divisions do little to alleviate the suffering of the vulnerable and displaced. What is required instead is the “moral and political leadership” called for by UNHCR’s Antonio Guterres.

For this exhibition shows us that solidarity, political will and above all, compassion, can end the hopelessness of those trapped by, and fleeing, violent conflict.

Rencontres de Genève is also a compelling reminder that all of us, not only Presidents and generals, must play a role in building peaceful and stable communities; and that we cannot be innocent bystanders.

I therefore hope you share my enthusiasm for this festival, and for the debates and discussions it will spark.