NOBEL PEACE LAUREATES SUMMIT, WARSAW, 2013
Jayantha Dhanapala. President, Pugwash Conferences in Science & World Affairs

Unheard Voices – Inequalities in Social Justice

Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,

I bring you greetings from the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1995. We continue to be grateful to President Mikhail Gorbachev and Mayor Walter Veltroni, our Co-chairs, for bringing us together annually. To our Polish hosts and the city of Warsaw here in the historic center of Europe, our gratitude for your warm hospitality and our admiration of your indomitable courage in the face of so many challenges in your history.

I salute President Lech Walesa, a great Polish patriot, who helped usher in freedom for Poland and social justice for the workers on this thirtieth anniversary of the well deserved award of the Nobel Peace Prize to him.

May I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

For us in Pugwash, there is a special poignancy in coming to Poland. Professor Joseph Rotblat, the eminent nuclear physicist, who was the co-recipient with Pugwash of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, and who left the Manhattan project on moral grounds to lead a life long campaign of selfless dedication for the abolition of nuclear weapons, was born in Poland. Eric Bednarski, the film-maker who directed the documentary on Rotblat’s life entitled “The Strangest Dream” is in the audience, and will share with me this great moment as we honor Rotblat in the land and city of his birth.

At the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit last year in Chicago, I seem to have anticipated the theme of this session when, at the end of my speech there I said, “On 8 July 1955 Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell issued a Manifesto in London which ended with a humanist message “Remember your humanity” that has inspired my organization the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. As we deliberate the theme “Speak Up, Speak Out for Freedom and Rights” let us not forget our common humanity and that we must speak up for all so that we may have a peaceful and secure world order that is also just and equitable – and especially for the voiceless and for those whose governments do not let them speak up”.

This year our theme is “Stand in Solidarity for Peace – Time to Act” and in this session we address “Unheard Voices. Inequalities in Social Justice”

Let me go back to the foundation of our current world order – the Charter of the United Nations. Apart from the powerful messages contained in the Prologue and throughout that great document – messages of peace and security, fundamental human rights and international law – there is the objective “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom and for these ends ….to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement  of all peoples.” One part of that international machinery, the UN Development Programme, was responsible for giving us the enlightened concept of “Human Development” through successive Human Development Reports. They focused not on aggregate quantitative growth of national economies but on people-centred policies with a direct impact on the poor and the education, health and nutrition and employment skills of all the citizens of the world. The concepts of human development and sustainable development – the latter simply defined by the Brundtland Commission as, and I quote, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, have both enlarged and enriched our understanding of economic policies that concretely benefit all people. Nevertheless, we continue to face fresh problems of gaps in equitable development and segments of populations falling through the cracks.

In our world of 7 billion today the rich 1% own 40% of the world’s assets. The facts are stark – 17% are still illiterate; 23% are without shelter; 15% are undernourished and 13% have no clean water to drink. With the 8 Millennium Development Goals the world has made some progress. It is time to develop a post- 2015 Development Agenda.

A high level UN report titled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development”,  which has just come out recently sets a new date for the total eradication of poverty for 2030 and gives the following description of the world today –

“There are a billion more people today, with world population at seven billion, and another billion expected by 2030. More than half of us now live in cities.

Private investment in developing countries now dwarfs aid flows. The number of mobile phone subscriptions has risen from fewer than one billion to more than six billion. Thanks to the Internet, seeking business or information on the other side of the world is now routine for many. Yet inequality remains and opportunity is not open to all. The 1.2 billion poorest people account for only 1 per cent of world consumption while the billion richest consume 72 per cent.”

The recession in the developed countries caused by the irresponsible greed of the bankers, has led to austerity measures that have hit the poorer segments very hard. In the Global South despite the dramatic success in some countries in the highly acclaimed “Rise of the South”, concerns over equity and sustainability continue. Thus policy makers in both the North and South must address threats to social inclusion and social welfare in order to achieve the social cohesion and social integration that is so vital for democracy to flourish. The growth of the middle class in developing economies in size and median income will be significant but will not be enough to eliminate pockets of deprivation. This year’s Human Development Report advocates four important areas in which human development can be sustained. They are: enhancing equity including education especially of women; Enabling voice and participation of the people especially the youth in policymaking; confronting environmental challenges; managing demographic change with some facing an ageing population and others needing to expand their working population with the spread of education to women.

There are many marginalized groups whose concerns we must address if we are to eliminate social injustice with stronger social protection floors and minimum wage setting systems. These vulnerable groups include –

  • Those below the poverty line estimated by the World Bank at 1.2 billion in the world
  • The unemployed especially among the youth.
  • The ILO study on Global Employment Trends 2013 states that the number of unemployed worldwide was 197 million in 2012 and is projected to rise by 5.1 million in 2013, to more than 202 million in 2013 and by another 3 million in 2014.
  • Child labour who are deprived of education and robbed of their youth is 168 million worldwide
  • Girl children like Malala Yousafzai who are deprived of a normal education through discrimination . According to UNICEF an estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 34 million girls of lower secondary school age were not enrolled in school in 2011. It also estimates that only 62 out of 168 countries will achieve gender parity in secondary education by 2015
  • Those who are deprived of their basic human rights with no political, or economic rights and marginalized communities like the Roma, the dalits, so-called low castes and groups discriminated against because of religion, ethnicity, sexual proclivities etc.
  •  Those displaced, asylum seekers and those who are refugees. At the end of 2012, more than 45.2 million people were in situations of displacement compared to 42.5 million at the end of 2011.

My distinguished co-panelist Dr.Muhammad Yunus has worked hard with his micro credit scheme of Grameen Banks to alleviate the hardships of poor women in Bangladesh liberating them from the bonds that circumscribed their productive role in society. More can be done by others. The political spring in a country can be snuffed out all too easily but structural changes to societies and economies are more long lasting and durable.

Let us together articulate the needs of those marginalized segments of our global society so that the inequalities under which they suffer are removed and we have equal rights for all our citizens.