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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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Emma Bonino, Olayinka Koso-Thomas, Graça Machel, Fatiha Boudiaf, Rigoberta Menchú, Fatana Ishaq Gailani and Somaly Mam

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 1998

Majesty,
Your Highness,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to receive today, in the Principality of Asturias, in Oviedo, this important Award. I must extend my thanks very especially to Her Majesty the Queen, whose presence for us here today, at this ceremony, is highly significant and symbolic.

I am honoured to have the privilege of also saying thank you on behalf of Graça, Fatiha, Rigoberta, Somaly, Olayinka and Fatana.

Each and every one of them, through their experience and their personal careers, has made a decisive contribution to the cause of human rights, and specifically those of women. Their collective experience, their frustrations and successes, are the best example of the causes that women all around the world continue to fight for today.

This Award is, above all, a recognition of the role of women in the defence of the most fundamental rights and values in so many parts of the world: from distant lands such as Afghanistan to this very region of Asturias.

From Afghanistan, where the women of Kabul are like ghosts enveloped in a veil form head to toe ' the burka' and cannot choose their way of life, or even receive humanitarian aid. These women have lost it all - even their right to speech - and so we must speak on their behalf. We are probably their only hope, and that is why we launched a European Community campaign this year, to devote the International Day of Woman, on 8 March this year, to the women of Kabul.

From Afghanistan to this region of Asturias, where highly determined women courageously face the harsh daily realities of economic reconversion, unemployment and the mining industry. Our heart is today, and particularly, with the many widows of the mines, which continue, tragically, to collect a levy of human lives.

None of us are visionaries or saints. We work towards encouraging the International Community - and the States that belong to it - to practice the principles described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 50th anniversary we are celebrating this year. Towards the application of those very terms that were solemnly agreed and ratified.

Is it really possible to talk of celebrations when, at the end of the present century, systematic violations of the most fundamental rights are still taking place? When 45 million human beings die every year of starvation and malnutrition? When there are over 23 million refugees and displaced people as a result of conflicts spanning from the Great Lakes to Kosovo or Afghanistan? When over one billion people live in utter poverty in the planet, while, at the same time, the most spectacular scientific and technological advances have taken place? I think not. On the contrary - I think humanity is returning to barbarianism at the end of the current century.

I've never been a feminist in the strict and militant sense of the word. I do not believe being a woman is enough to make one a better person. But that has not prevented me from struggling for people of the female sex. It is quite simply a matter of defending all people, whether men or women, who are denied their full fundamental rights. People whose dignity is despised or simply questioned.

This Award will strongly encourage all of us to persevere in the struggle we are committed to, each one of us in her respective place. This fight has for some time now also been an effort to make international relations a little less realistic - and a little less cynical, even - and a little more ethical: ethical as regards values, ideals, principles and commitment.

This is further recognition of the need for extending the limits of exterior politics, international co-operation and diplomacy something which public opinion in all our countries expects and demands. These limits must be extended to include the international law, humanitarian aid, democracy and social justice. The illusion of a realpolitik that is devoid of values, of a foreign policy that is based solely on the defence of national and economic interests, can no longer be sustained. In my opinion, it has always been morally untenable.

Recent history has shown us that, in order to change things, the drawing up of international treaties is not enough; nor is it enough to sign them, or even ratify them. Treaties and conventions must become a reality. They must be protected - defended, if needs must - every day, with determination and tenacity, against the temptation of turning back.

In this respect, I believe in a woman for whom I harbour the greatest admiration and respect; a woman who for me is the symbol of the enormous dignity with which non-violence has to confront the stubborn visage of absolute power, based on violence.

A woman whose appearance is fragile, but whose character is impervious to rust. A woman who, among so many other things, deserves our tribute: Aung San Su-Kyi. A woman whose political and personal situation is known the world over, and whose sole asset today is the attention and support of the outside world. To her I dedicate this award.

I hope the honour you are bestowing upon us today, Your Highness, may comfort her, and her cause, which is the cause of us all, both men and women.

Thank you very much.

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