Dear Mrs. Gonçalves,
As chairman of Club Rotterdam I thank you, in the name of the Bernard Mandeville Foundation, for your lecture.
If anyone in the audience should have entertained some doubt on whether economic, social and cultural rights are to be considered human rights, I believe your lecture provides sufficient argument to take it away. Food, employment, housing, participation in cultural life: these are people’s elementary needs no one should be deprived of or denied. This does not alter the fact that many first of all will see the concept of ‘human rights’ in its limited form. Or: civil and political rights as freedom of expression and the certainty that one cannot be robbed of one’s freedom just like that.
As now you are in a pole position to clearly draw attention to the importance of economic, social and cultural rights, I think it provides for a good start to achieve that these rights are always bracketed together with other human rights. I hope that your lecture will contribute to this, and that doubters will be won over.
The crux of your argument: the voices of all people whose fundamental rights are violated should be heard ‘across borders’. From prisoners of conscience to those who suffer from hunger and poverty. Regardless of nationality and without restrictions by national borders. Human rights first of all deserve protection from law-abiding states that consider human rights as essential trait of their own right to exist. Not all states do so, and organisations like Amnesty International are therefore indispensable in the fight for the universal protection of human rights. But the voices of those whose rights have been violated can and also must find responses in other ways. Not only through Amnesty, but also via the media, the business community, educational institutions, religious organisations and numerous other channels. And for example also through organisations like the Bernard Mandeville Foundation, which may offer a platform for people dedicated to human rights.
As chairman of Club Rotterdam, umbrella for some 75 Rotterdam-based businesses, I’d like to point out that the business sector may well be active in the social sphere. Club Rotterdam itself provides an example. Founded in 1928, this employers’ club did its best for the industrial reconstruction of Rotterdam after World War II. Club Rotterdam not only looks after business’ interests, but pursues societal goals as well – seeing the importance of socially responsible entrepreneurship. Take, for example, compliance with international agreements on labour, including the ban on child labour. Companies that adhere to the principles of fair trade can also help fighting socioeconomic discrimination. In short, there are various positive roles for the business sector in the field of human rights.
Hopefully Amnesty’s efforts will contribute to achieving broad awareness that human rights also include economic, social and cultural rights. Not only at the level of institutions, businesses and other organisations - also at the level of the individual human being. Talking about the individual brings me to the reasons why the Bernard Mandeville Foundation wished to honour you in particular. Let me fall back on one of Mandeville’s best-known quotes: ‘What injury would I inflict on man, if I should make him more known to himself than he was heretofore?’ Or: what is the harm in holding up a mirror up to someone’s face? The only logical answer is: none. Nevertheless, there are numerous places in the world where human rights are being violated and where holding up a mirror to the ones responsible is often impossible, dangerous. Simply telling the truth may lead to great repercussions. Fortunately there are people, like you, who draw attention to abusive situations and set out to do something about it. This kind of dedication seems indispensable in this world.
As a Surinamese citizen in the early 1980s - at the time of the military coup by Desk Boaters – you very closely witnessed of how radical and disruptive the consequences of gross violation of human rights can be. Consequences for individuals, but also for society as a whole. Considering this, your ambitions to achieve a better and more righteous world are the more praiseworthy. Educated as a lawyer in Leiden and practising the legal profession for years, your involvement brought you numerous positions in the social sphere. For example, chairmanship of the National Bureau for the Fight against Racism, an executive function in the Development Organisation SNV, chairmanship of the NPS program council, membership of the Human Rights Council of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and chairmanship of the Prins Claus Fund. And let’s not forget Amnesty International, since 2001. First as chair of the Netherlands Section, and from 2005 as Chair of the International Executive Committee.
Countless issues touch you – and touch you personally, as I read in the spate of recent articles and interviews featuring you. You still are dedicated to the cause of justice in Suriname. Darfur, we all know what is happening there, gives you sleepless nights. It’s literally like you say in an interview in ‘Vrij Nederland’: ‘How can the world allow people slaughtering each other at such a scale? We stand and watch it. Each day’s waiting is a day too many.’ As international chair of Amnesty you are making a plea for a large international pull among rich countries to end all this. Next to Darfur many such instances bring out your strong involvement. In the same ‘Vrij Nederland’ interview you quote from the tribute you gave in the name of Amnesty International for Nelson Mandela last year. ‘One single courageous human being in unison with many other courageous people can stir up a tsunami of change, even in the most barren regions.’ In your view Nelson Mandela has proven this, and has given you the permanent hope that changes for the better are possible. Just like Nelson Mandela has given you hope and inspiration, I believe that you in turn will do so for many who know you and your work.
In Amnesty you are part of an organisation pleading the cause of human rights in a peaceful manner all over the world. Amnesty adopts a politically neutral position, and only sides with human rights. Your work for Amnesty is in line with Bernard Mandeville’s famous quote I mentioned earlier. You’re holding up a mirror to the face of the world, asking attention for that which human rights violators often forbid talking about. Doing so you first and foremost confront the violators of human rights with themselves and their deeds.
But you hold up a mirror to the faces of others as well. Like we, privileged to live in a democracy that safeguards human rights well enough. How do we handle the knowledge you impart to us through Amnesty? How far do we want to go in contributing to a better world? Each person, each company and each institution should seek answers individually. As said earlier today, Bernard Mandeville sees humans as naturally not good, but greedy and selfish. And although mankind in Mandeville’s view is driven by self-interest, he asserts that these motives definitely may bring social progress. This is a comforting thought. Yet it would not be a bad thing if something were to be amiss in the first of these observations. Dedicated efforts towards a better world by people like you seem at least to point in this direction. Apart from this, all of us, looking into the mirror you hold up to the face of the world, have the choice to work for human rights. Some are willing to give a good deal to it – as you have amply shown in your life. This brings me to the end of my words of thanks.
As a lasting token of appreciation for your work I will present you with the Bernard Mandeville-medal and –certificate in a few moments. Before, I would like to thank you for your long-standing and unremitting dedication toward a better and righteous society. Let’s hope that you will go on as long as necessary. For we all know that human rights are still trampled upon in many places in the world. Civil rights, political rights, but also social, economic, and cultural rights. Today your efforts to change all that get the homage they deserve. On behalf of the Bernard Mandeville Foundation and all present here: bravo!