Nobel Laureates Call on "Militaristic" United States to Renew Pledge to Protect Human Rights

StoryApril 27, 2015
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Mairead Maguire

was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her actions to help end the deep ethnic and political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. She shares the award with Betty Williams. They helped start Peace People, a movement committed to building a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland.

Leymah Gbowee

received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Gbowee shared the prize with fellow Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni native Tawakkul Karman. Gbowee and Sirleaf became the second and third African women to win the prize, preceded by the late Wangari Maathai of Kenya. She is the founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa based in Liberia. She is the author of the book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.

Jody Williams

won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She’s chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. In 2013, she helped launch the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Her memoir is called My Name is Jody Williams: A Vermont Girl’s Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize.

As we broadcast from the World Forum at The Hague, a statue has just been dedicated to Dutch suffragist Dr. Aletta Jacobs, who 100 years ago organized an extraordinary meeting known as the International Congress of Women that took place as World War I raged across the globe. We are joined by three women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize and are gathered to mark the anniversary and discuss how to build peace in the future. Mairead Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her actions to help end the deep ethnic and political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. Leymah Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. And Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Williams notes President Barack Obama has authorized more drone strikes during his first three months in office than President Bush did during his entire administration.

NEXTNobel Peace Prize Laureate Launches Campaign to Stop Killer Robots After Winning Ban on Landmines
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting live from The Hague, from the World Forum at The Hague. Actually, right nearby is the Peace Palace, and this past week the second female statue was dedicated. It was dedicated to Dr. Aletta [Jacobs], who was one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, called that session 100 years ago where a thousand women came in the midst of World War I, 1915, to say no to war. Now we’re joined by three Nobel Peace laureates. Jody Williams won it in 1997 for her campaign against landmines. Leymah Gbowee is with us from Liberia. She won in 2011. She was fighting the Liberian Civil War nonviolently, organizing throughout Liberia. And Mairead Maguire is with us. She won in 1976, along with Betty Williams, in Northern Ireland as they fought against the violence there.

Now, none of your activism has stopped. You didn’t go out, you laureates, on your laurels. Mairead Maguire, I remember visiting Phil Berrigan in jail. You were the next person to visit him. I left. You came in. But you didn’t leave. I think you were arrested on the spot. Why did you refuse to leave at that time? Phil Berrigan, the well-known Plowshares activist who, you know, based on the philosophy of turning swords into plowshares, had done yet another nonviolent action against nuclear weapons in the United States.

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yeah, well, I’ve always been inspired by the American peace activists from when I was a very young woman, because I think that it took tremendous courage. And Phil Berrigan was one of my heroes. But I had also been to Iraq and met with the Iraqi government and people like that, and we knew there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, and they were crying out for dialogue. And they hadn’t been approached by American diplomats to actually find the path of peace.

AMY GOODMAN: This is before the Iraq War, you were saying talk to them.

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Before the Iraq War, yes. So, what we were coming to America to say to the diplomats and to the government—and to walk with the American people—these problems can be solved without bombing each other, through dialogue, through negotiation. So I came then to America to be part of that process. But, you know, we can campaign against war, against militarism, but until we change our consciousness and our mindsets that we really have to stop killing each other, because we are technological giants, we have a great deal of knowledge—we know how to kill each other, and we can’t undo that knowledge. So what we have to do is really in our own minds decide that we are not going to kill each other.

AMY GOODMAN: You also went to Syria?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We went to Syria, and we went to Syria twice. And we went into Syria with a delegation of 40 Iranian peace activists. And the whole message coming out of these countries is: Don’t invade us, don’t occupy us; we can solve our problems through dialogue, through negotiation. Again, it comes back to the thing, if you listen to the news, people would almost despair: "Oh, my god! The world is coming apart. What can we do?" But, you know, we have a wonderful world, and there’s a great deal happening. And the vast majority, 99 percent of people in the world, do not want to kill each other. They have never killed each other. They care for the fact that children are dying in all these countries. But tragically, we seem to be caught in this trajectory that our governments take us to war, and we don’t want to go to war.

AMY GOODMAN: Mairead Maguire—

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We want to do it through peace.

AMY GOODMAN: You also were on one of the Gaza flotillas challenging the Israeli blockade against Gaza?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yes, I was, because I passionately believe that there could be peace between Israel and Palestine, if you had the political will to sit down the political leaders and say, "There is a solution to this. Find it." Because going out and bombing women and, increasingly, children on the ground, it is horrific. It’s not acceptable. But I would challenge the American government, because I think the American government’s policies are totally wrong. Their approach of going out to militarism and war and bombing countries is uncivilized, illegal and absolutely dreadful in the 21st century. So I do believe that America has a moral and ethical responsibility to the world to listen, that the people in the world want peace. Everybody has a right to peace. They can do it through dialogue and through negotiation. And let’s give peace a chance.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a chance? I mean, you have the Obama administration now. Under the Obama administration, more weapons have been sold in the world than under any previous administration. And the highest number, amount of the weapons have been sold to Saudi Arabia. Jody Williams, you’re from the U.S.

JODY WILLIAMS: Of course we can change the world. Sometimes, as Mairead says, when we look at that—when I look at my own country, I’ve been fighting the U.S. foreign policy since Vietnam, my first protest, 1970, University of Vermont. But change is possible. And because I believe, like Mairead, the majority of people of the world are sick to death of this, and we are starting to stand up and say no. We’re starting to challenge and not accept, you know, words out of one side of the face and the actions which are different. You know, I never thought, unfortunately—I didn’t drink the Obama Kool-Aid. That man fired or authorized more drone strikes in the first three months of his administration than George W. Bush did in eight years in office. We have to, as Americans—I agree with her—accept the responsibility that we have the most militaristic nation in the world, and take responsibility to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, you have also taken on the issue of Ebola. Talk about how you dealt with Ebola and what your government was doing.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, the government was totally unresponsive to the needs of the people. I remember when we had the—

AMY GOODMAN: This is your sister Nobel laureate—

LEYMAH GBOWEE: You know, Amy, I’m not—

AMY GOODMAN: —President Johnson Sirleaf.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: —even going to allow you to end. I get so sick and tired when people say, "You won the prize along with President Sirleaf." First thing first, President Sirleaf is a politician, I’m an activist. No one expected that we’ll be having Sunday brunch together every day. We were bound to disagree on issues, because that’s what happens between politicians and activists. That’s one. Two, I did not win the prize because I’m a wimp. I won the prize because I’ve always stood up and spoke truth to power. So if speaking truth to power will cause me to disagree with Jody in this civilized world, I believe that if we disagree, we should be able to come back together to agree on a more cordial line. Having said that—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we only have a minute, so tell us this ingenious strategy in the communities.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: We decided—since our government was unresponsive, the death was going on, because we believe in community and the power of the people, my foundation decided to put money into the hands of community people to find their own strategy, find their own solution for the Ebola crisis. We did that through 150 local organizations, from prayer groups to soccer groups, to youth groups, to women’s groups, and 26 local radio stations. Today, the U.N. has said this is an effective strategy. And I like to claim it as setting a trend.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about the cinemas, the video clubs?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: One of the beautiful things that happens in community, when people understand what they need to do. We gave this group of women some money to think through. They went on YouTube, got some of the young people—we had nothing to do with it—downloaded some of the videos from past Ebola cases in East Africa, other parts of the world, and they made their own short documentary, went into their community, used the money that we had given them to hire a cinema, or we call it local video clubs. And once the hiring had been done, they asked the video clubs to show blockbuster movies.

AMY GOODMAN: Blockbuster movies, like the biggest—

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Blockbuster, like the biggest movie we have in our space and time—and told community people it was free to go and watch the movie. These clubs were filled with people. In the middle of the movie, they would do an intermission and put on a little clip about Ebola. And that’s how the community, that particular community of almost 20,000 inhabitants, were really able to see that this disease is real, and we need to start taking all the necessary action.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they’d stop the film in the middle, show the little documentary, then go back to the blockbuster?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Then go back to the film. And then people will leave, not talking about the film, but just talking about that short clip. And these women had put in hand-washing stations, all of the different things, so people then begin to start washing their hands and taking all the necessary precaution.

AMY GOODMAN: And what number are you at now of Ebola victims in Liberia?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, we are at zero. And hopefully, in five or six days, we’re supposed to be counting down to Liberia being Ebola-free by the World Health Organization. And I think the success is not government. It’s not flying in the U.S. military. It’s community. Engage, engage, engage communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it at that. Five seconds for each of you to wrap up this, with you women of wisdom in this time of war. Mairead Maguire?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Well, you know, America is a great country. And Eleanor Roosevelt was one of
the contributors to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And you have a wonderful Constitution. But revive your Constitution, rededicate yourselves to international law, and be a peacemaker, not a warmaker.

AMY GOODMAN: Jody Williams? You have two seconds.

JODY WILLIAMS: Nothing about us without us: Women need to be involved in all aspects of peace and security.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee? Three seconds.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: In The Hague, do one good thing every day that everyone else is scared to do.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it at that. Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire and Jody Williams, thanks so much.

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Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Launches Campaign to Stop Killer Robots After Winning Ban on Landmines

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