On November 5 and 6, 1998, nine Nobel Peace Laureates met in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia to discuss roadblocks to peace in the world. Michele Bohana of the Institute for Asian Democracy, speaking for one of the sponsors of the event, said, "These individuals have witnessed what ensues when human rights have been trampled upon, when the results of a free election are annulled or ignored, when self-determination is an unrealized aspiration, when indigenous peoples suffer the consequences of forced cultural assimilation, when weapons of mass destruction remain unchecked, and when weapons of war, landmines, continue to pock our earth and maim our brothers and sisters."
All of the Nobel Laureates agree that morality is the healing balm for a troubled world. Jose Ramos of East Timor salutes those who are seeking the right of self-determination; Betty Williams of Northern Ireland affirms the work of women and children in combating conflict and war; Dr. Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa discusses the moral clout of restorative justice; Harn Yawnghwe, speaking on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, reflects upon the importance of human rights; Bobby Muller and Jody Williams of the U.S. talk about their international campaign to ban landmines; and His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet calls for compassion in societies and the practice of inner disarmament.
Certainly the most ethically forceful speech is the one by President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica where he calls for an "International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers." He notes that with reductions in defense budgets in the industrialized nations, many producers of military goods have had to look for new clients in the developing world, where most of today's conflicts take place. Here, for example, is what he has to say about the United States' role in these developments:
"Currently, the U.S. is responsible for 44 percent of all weapons sales in the world, and between 1993 and 1996, 85 percent of U.S. arms sales to the developing world went to non-democratic governments. At the end of 1997, weapons manufactured in the United States were being used in thirty-nine of the world's forty-two ethnic and territorial conflicts. It is unconscionable for a country that believes in democracy and justice to continue allowing arms merchants to reap profits stained in blood. But, ironically, vast amounts of taxpayer money go to support this immoral trade. In 1995, the arms industry received $7.6 billion in federal subsidies."
The art of peace in our time calls for this kind of brutal honesty. Bravo to President Sanchez for revealing this outrage! And bravo to Snow Lion for making his statement available to the public. Unfortunately, this topic is not likely to be discussed in any of the presidential debates in 2000.