Statement of the Nobel Peace Laureates
November 12, 2004, Rome, Italy
Two decades ago, the world was swept with a wave of hope. Inspired by the popular movements for peace, freedom, democracy and solidarity, the nations of the world worked together to end the cold war. Yet the opportunities opened up by that historic change are slipping away. We are gravely concerned with the resurgent nuclear and conventional arms race, disrespect for international law and the failure of the world’s governments to address adequately the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation. A cult of violence is spreading globally; the opportunity to build a culture of peace, advocated by the United Nations, Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders, is receding.
Alongside the challenges inherited from the past there are new ones, which, if not properly addressed, could cause a clash of civilizations, religions and cultures. We reject the idea of the inevitability of such a conflict. We are convinced that combating terrorism in all its forms is a task that should be pursued with determination. only by reaffirming our shared ethical values -- respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms -- and by observing democratic principles, within and amongst countries, can terrorism be defeated. We must address the root causes of terrorism -- poverty, ignorance and injustice -- rather than responding to violence with violence.
Unacceptable violence is occurring daily against women and children. Children remain our most important neglected treasure. Their protection, security and health should be the highest priority. Children everywhere deserve to be educated in and for peace. There is no excuse for neglecting their safety and welfare and, particularly, for their suffering in war. (Italic added)
The war in Iraq has created a hotbed of dangerous instability and a breeding ground for terrorism. Credible reports of the disappearance of nuclear materials cannot be ignored. While we mourn the deaths of tens of thousands of people, none of the goals proclaimed by the coalition have been achieved.
The challenges of security, poverty and environmental crisis can only be met successfully through multilateral efforts based on the rule of law. All nations must strictly fulfil their treaty obligations and reaffirm the indispensable role of the United Nations and the primary responsibility of the UN Security Council for maintaining peace.
We support a speedy, peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, including a verifiable end to North Korea ’s nuclear weapons program, security guarantees and lifting of sanctions on North Korea . Both the six-party talks and bilateral efforts by the United States and North Korea should contribute to such an outcome.
We welcome recent progress in the talks between Iran and Great Britain , France and Germany on the Iranian nuclear program issue and hope that the United States will join in the process to find a solution within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
We call for the reduction of military expenditures and for conclusion of a treaty that would control arms trade and prohibit sales of arms where they could be used to violate international human rights standards and humanitarian law.
As Nobel Laureates, we believe that the world community needs urgently to address the challenges of poverty and sustainable development. Responding to these challenges requires the political will that has been so sadly lacking. The undertakings pledged by states at the UN Millennium Summit, the promises of increased development assistance, fair trade, market access and debt relief for developing countries, have not been implemented. Poverty continues to be the world’s most widespread and dangerous scourge. Millions of people become victims of hunger and disease, and entire nations suffer from feelings of frustration and despair. This creates fertile ground for extremism and terrorism. The stability and future of the entire human community are thus jeopardized.
Scientists are warning us that failure to solve the problems of water, energy and climate change will lead to a breakdown of order, more military conflicts and ultimately the destruction of the living systems upon which civilization depends. Therefore, we reaffirm our support for the Kyoto Protocol and the Earth Charter and endorse the rights-based approach to water, as reflected in the initiative of Green Cross International calling upon governments to negotiate a framework treaty on water.
As Nobel Peace Prize Laureates we believe that to benefit from humankind’s new, unprecedented opportunities and to counter the dangers confronting us there is a need for better global governance. Therefore, we support strengthening and reforming the United Nations and its institutions. As immediate specific tasks, we commit to work for:
- Genuine efforts to resolve the Middle East crisis. This is both a key to the problem of terrorism and a chance to avoid a dangerous clash of civilizations. A solution is possible if the right of all nations in the region to secure, viable statehood is respected and if the Middle East is integrated in all global processes while respecting the unique culture of the peoples of that region.
- Preserving and strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We reject double standards and emphasize the legal responsibility of nuclear weapons states to work to eliminate nuclear weapons. We call for continuation of the moratorium on nuclear testing pending entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and for accelerating the process of verifiable and irreversible nuclear arms reduction. We are gravely alarmed by the creation of new, usable nuclear weapons and call for rejection of doctrines that view nuclear weapons as legitimate means of war-fighting and threat pre-emption.
- Effectively realizing the initiative of the UN Secretary General to convene a high-level conference in 2005 to give an impetus to the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. We pledge to work to create an atmosphere of public accountability to help accomplish these vitally important tasks.
We believe that to solve the problems that challenge the world today politicians need to interact with an empowered civil society and strong mass movements. This is the way toward a globalization with a human face and a new international order that rejects brute force, respects ethnic, cultural and political diversity and affirms justice, compassion and human solidarity.
We, the Nobel Peace Laureates and Laureate organizations, pledge to work for the realization of these goals and are calling on governments and people everywhere to join us.
Mikhail Gorbachev, Kim Dae-Jung, Lech Walesa, Joseph Rotblat, Jose Ramos-Horta, Betty Williams, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and Rigoaberta Menchu Tum; and, United Nations Children’s Fund, Pugwash Conferences, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, International Peace Bureau, Institut de Droit International, American Friends Service Committee, Meacute;dicins sans Frontiegrave;res, Amnesty International, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Labour Organization, International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, United Nations.
Norwegian poet Michael Holmboe is the "Peace on Earth" emblem author
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2004
Wangari Muta Maathai
The Nobel Lecture given by The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2004
(Oslo , December 10, 2004)
Your Royal Highnesses
Honourable Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen
I stand before you and the world humbled by this recognition and uplifted by the honour of being the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate.
As the first African woman to receive this prize, I accept it on behalf of the people of Kenya and Africa , and indeed the world. I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership. I know the honour also gives a deep sense of pride to our men, both old and young. As a mother, I appreciate the inspiration this brings to the youth and urge them to use it to pursue their dreams.
Although this prize comes to me, it acknowledges the work of countless individuals and groups across the globe. They work quietly and often without recognition to protect the environment, promote democracy, defend human rights and ensure equality between women and men. By so doing, they plant seeds of peace. I know they, too, are proud today. To all who feel represented by this prize I say use it to advance your mission and meet the high expectations the world will place on us.
This honour is also for my family, friends, partners and supporters throughout the world. All of them helped shape the vision and sustain our work, which was often accomplished under hostile conditions. I am also grateful to the people of Kenya -who remained stubbornly hopeful that democracy could be realized and their environment managed sustainably. Because of this support, I am here today to accept this great honour.
I am immensely privileged to join my fellow African Peace laureates, Presidents Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late Chief Albert Luthuli, the late Anwar el-Sadat and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
I know that African people everywhere are encouraged by this news. My fellow Africans, as we embrace this recognition, let us use it to intensify our commitment to our people, to reduce conflicts and poverty and thereby improve their quality of life. Let us embrace democratic governance, protect human rights and protect our environment. I am confident that we shall rise to the occasion. I have always believed that solutions to most of our problems must come from us.
In this year's prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has placed the critical issue of environment and its linkage to democracy and peace before the world. For their visionary action, I am profoundly grateful. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come. Our work over the past 30 years has always appreciated and engaged these linkages.
My inspiration partly comes from my childhood experiences and observations of Nature in rural Kenya . It has been influenced and nurtured by the formal education I was privileged to receive in Kenya , the United States and Germany . As I was growing up, I witnessed forests being cleared and replaced by commercial plantations, which destroyed local biodiversity and the capacity of the forests to conserve water.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
In 1977, when we started the Green Belt Movement, I was partly responding to needs identified by rural women, namely lack of firewood, clean drinking water, balanced diets, shelter and income.
Throughout Africa , women are the primary caretakers, holding significant responsibility for tilling the land and feeding their families. As a result, they are often the first to become aware of environmental damage as resources become scarce and incapable of sustaining their families.
The women we worked with recounted that unlike in the past, they were unable to meet their basic needs. This was due to the degradation of their immediate environment as well as the introduction of commercial farming, which replaced the growing of household food crops. But international trade controlled the price of the exports from these small-scale farmers and a reasonable and just income could not be guaranteed. I came to understand that when the environment is destroyed, plundered or mismanaged, we undermine our quality of life and that of future generations.
Tree planting became a natural choice to address some of the initial basic needs identified by women. Also, tree planting is simple, attainable and guarantees quick, successful results within a reasonable amount time. This sustains interest and commitment.
So, together, we have planted over 30 million trees that provide fuel, food, shelter, and income to support their children's education and household needs. The activity also creates employment and improves soils and watersheds. Through their involvement, women gain some degree of power over their lives, especially their social and economic position and relevance in the family. This work continues.
Initially, the work was difficult because historically our people have been persuaded to believe that because they are poor, they lack not only capital, but also knowledge and skills to address their challenges. Instead they are conditioned to believe that solutions to their problems must come from 'outside'. Further, women did not realize that meeting their needs depended on their environment being healthy and well managed. They were also unaware that a degraded environment leads to a scramble for scarce resources and may culminate in poverty and even conflict. They were also unaware of the injustices of international economic arrangements.
In order to assist communities to understand these linkages, we developed a citizen education program, during which people identify their problems, the causes and possible solutions. They then make connections between their own personal actions and the problems they witness in the environment and in society. They learn that our world is confronted with a litany of woes: corruption, violence against women and children, disruption and breakdown of families, and disintegration of cultures and communities. They also identify the abuse of drugs and chemical substances, especially among young people. There are also devastating diseases that are defying cures or occurring in epidemic proportions. Of particular concern are HIV/AIDS, malaria and diseases associated with malnutrition.
on the environment front, they are exposed to many human activities that are devastating to the environment and societies. These include widespread destruction of ecosystems, especially through deforestation, climatic instability, and contamination in the soils and waters that all contribute to excruciating poverty.
In the process, the participants discover that they must be part of the solutions. They realize their hidden potential and are empowered to overcome inertia and take action. They come to recognize that they are the primary custodians and beneficiaries of the environment that sustains them.
Entire communities also come to understand that while it is necessary to hold their governments accountable, it is equally important that in their own relationships with each other, they exemplify the leadership values they wish to see in their own leaders, namely justice, integrity and trust.
Although initially the Green Belt Movement's tree planting activities did not address issues of democracy and peace, it soon became clear that responsible governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space. Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya . Citizens were mobilised to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement. In Nairobi 's Uhuru Park , at Freedom Corner, and in many parts of the country, trees of peace were planted to demand the release of prisoners of conscience and a peaceful transition to democracy.
Through the Green Belt Movement, thousands of ordinary citizens were mobilized and empowered to take action and effect change. They learned to overcome fear and a sense of helplessness and moved to defend democratic rights.
In time, the tree also became a symbol for peace and conflict resolution, especially during ethnic conflicts in Kenya when the Green Belt Movement used peace trees to reconcile disputing communities. During the ongoing re-writing of the Kenyan constitution, similar trees of peace were planted in many parts of the country to promote a culture of peace. Using trees as a symbol of peace is in keeping with a widespread African tradition. For example, the elders of the Kikuyu carried a staff from the thigi tree that, when placed between two disputing sides, caused them to stop fighting and seek reconciliation. Many communities in Africa have these traditions.
Such practises are part of an extensive cultural heritage, which contributes both to the conservation of habitats and to cultures of peace. With the destruction of these cultures and the introduction of new values, local biodiversity is no longer valued or protected and as a result, it is quickly degraded and disappears. For this reason, The Green Belt Movement explores the concept of cultural biodiversity, especially with respect to indigenous seeds and medicinal plants.
As we progressively understood the causes of environmental degradation, we saw the need for good governance. Indeed, the state of any county's environment is a reflection of the kind of governance in place, and without good governance there can be no peace. Many countries, which have poor governance systems, are also likely to have conflicts and poor laws protecting the environment.
In 2002, the courage, resilience, patience and commitment of members of the Green Belt Movement, other civil society organizations, and the Kenyan public culminated in the peaceful transition to a democratic government and laid the foundation for a more stable society.
Excellencies, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
It is 30 years since we started this work. Activities that devastate the environment and societies continue unabated. Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own - indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.
In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.
That time is now.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: there can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space. This shift is an idea whose time has come.
I call on leaders, especially from Africa , to expand democratic space and build fair and just societies that allow the creativity and energy of their citizens to flourish. Those of us who have been privileged to receive education, skills, and experiences and even power must be role models for the next generation of leadership. In this regard, I would also like to appeal for the freedom of my fellow laureate Aung San Suu Kyi so that she can continue her work for peace and democracy for the people of Burma and the world at large.
Culture plays a central role in the political, economic and social life of communities. Indeed, culture may be the missing link in the development of Africa . Culture is dynamic and evolves over time, consciously discarding retrogressive traditions, like female genital mutilation (FGM), and embracing aspects that are good and useful.
Africans, especially, should re-discover positive aspects of their culture. In accepting them, they would give themselves a sense of belonging, identity and self-confidence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is also need to galvanize civil society and grassroots movements to catalyse change. I call upon governments to recognize the role of these social movements in building a critical mass of responsible citizens, who help maintain checks and balances in society. on their part, civil society should embrace not only their rights but also their responsibilities.
Further, industry and global institutions must appreciate that ensuring economic justice, equity and ecological integrity are of greater value than profits at any cost. The extreme global inequities and prevailing consumption patterns continue at the expense of the environment and peaceful co-existence. The choice is ours.
I would like to call on young people to commit themselves to activities that contribute toward achieving their long-term dreams. They have the energy and creativity to shape a sustainable future. To the young people I say, you are a gift to your communities and indeed the world. You are our hope and our future.
The holistic approach to development, as exemplified by the Green Belt Movement, could be embraced and replicated in more parts of Africa and beyond. It is for this reason that I have established the Wangari Maathai Foundation to ensure the continuation and expansion of these activities. Although a lot has been achieved, much remains to be done.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
As I conclude I reflect on my childhood experience when I would visit a stream next to our home to fetch water for my mother. I would drink water straight from the stream. Playing among the arrowroot leaves I tried in vain to pick up the strands of frogs' eggs, believing they were beads. But every time I put my little fingers under them they would break. Later, I saw thousands of tadpoles: black, energetic and wriggling through the clear water against the background of the brown earth. This is the world I inherited from my parents.
Today, over 50 years later, the stream has dried up, women walk long distances for water, which is not always clean, and children will never know what they have lost. The challenge is to restore the home of the tadpoles and give back to our children a world of beauty and wonder.
Thank you very much.