On Tuesday 4th June 2019, the 2nd Normandy World Peace Forum was launched by an openingy speech of Doctor Denis Mukwege, winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

I would have loved to be here at this time with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman and a survivor of sexual violence, who I find so impressive, because breaking one’s silence is another way to make peace. I talked with her before coming; unfortunately, she is rather tired because she is a particularly soughtafter speaker, but it would have been a real pleasure to be here with her.

President of the Normandy Region and Regions of France, veterans of the Second World War, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, students, ladies and gentlemen, friends of peace and freedom, I want to thank the Normandy Region for inviting me to speak in this incredible eleventh-century abbey at the second edition of the Normandy World Peace Forum, with its peacemaker theme, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944 and the Battle of Normandy.

We respectfully pay tribute to the memory of those who died for freedom and peace, who sacrificed their lives to put an end to violence, barbarity and totalitarianism, who liberated Europe.

We pay tribute to the veterans who are here today. You fought alongside those who are no longer here, turning the page on one of the darkest chapters in mankind’s history. You have helped to give your children the hope of a better world, a world based on respect for freedom and dignity, confirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a world based on friendly relations between states, multilateralism and a ban on the use of force, which is the basis of the collective security system enshrined in Charter of the United Nations, a world based on international criminal justice, which began in Nuremberg and Tokyo and which finds its most brilliant form in the International Criminal Court.

Friends of peace, those who died on the beaches of Normandy left a clear and simple message to the survivors, to us and to the human community: “never again”.

It is up to all of us to respond to this order and to accept this responsibility, which is intertwined with human survival.

In response to the misery of war and the mourning of the millions of dead which affected every family and every nation, the solution was to combine the production of coal and steel, indispensable resources for the production of weapons. The European project was inspired by this imperative: saying no to war and creating ever closer ties between former enemies to develop shared peace and prosperity.

Those who died in the war, whom we will honour tomorrow, made it possible for Europeans to enjoy seventy-five years of peace and prosperity. The European Union has become the most advanced and envied model of regional integration in the world.

Twenty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall led us to believe that the era of totalitarianism was consigned to bad memories of the past, that we understood the need to build bridges, rather than walls, between individuals, to learn about other cultures and to strengthen links between nations so as to work together to find solutions to universal problems, to respond to the challenges faced by the modern world, including the fight against poverty, climate change, environmental protection, terrorism, new forms of conflict and the management of migration.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the history of humanity, different populations have never been as interdependent as they are today; yet multilateralism is currently put under significant pressure by the temptation to withdraw. With Brexit and the results of the last European elections, we can see that this hard-earned progress is threatened. What seemed solid now looks fragile.

At the beginning of this XXIst century, we bear horrified witness to violations of our rights and fundamental freedoms, discrimination and the rejection of others.

Living in parallel continues to take precedence over living together and Immanuel Kant’s dream of perpetual peace is still far from becoming a reality because of a resurgence in the bitter passions of nationalism, anti-Semitism, religious fundamentalism and populism.

Other people, outsiders, foreigners and those who are different are accused of being the source of our problems. Hateful words lead to racist and sexist attacks. Extremist ideas are becoming commonplace in society and in the political discourse of several countries, to such an extent that they are sometimes repeated by political parties previously considered to be democratic parties. Human rights and international humanitarian rights are violated on a daily basis on every continent.

The D-Day landings on Normandy’s beaches remind us of the striking contrast between those who came from distant lands to save Europe, fighting for the continent’s freedom and peace, and those whose bodies are now found on beaches, having fled poverty and violence to seek peace and freedom in Europe. The blood shed by foreign fighters, these heroes who died for freedom on European soil, calls for more solidarity and fraternity among people from different backgrounds.

To respond to migration, we must make it our priority to ensure that Europe and the Western world are not the world’s only peaceful and prosperous oasis, surrounded by conflict and poverty. It is our collective responsibility to create the necessary conditions to avoid the causes of war and the injustices which push refugees and migrants to want to live elsewhere, before they occur. By reducing this migratory pressure, we will put an end to the narrative which encourages populism and policies which reject and exclude in some of the most privileged countries.

This is increasingly vital, given that the next waves of migration will be more closely linked to climate change which will affect us all. Once again, there will only be a solution if we rely on multilateralism, partnerships and shared responsibilities, both individually and collectively.

Ladies and gentlemen, the current trend to withdraw, which goes hand-in-hand with the rise of policies which threaten freedom, invites us to make an observation.

Today, it is essential to reaffirm yesterday’s hardearned achievements to build on them tomorrow.

History has taught us not to repeat the mistakes of the past and that the worst is not always that far from the best. We must open our eyes, we must put an end to the somnambulistic state in which we seem to find ourselves today.

The need to find global solutions will lead us to reform our collective security system, which may be undermined by an erroneous interpretation of the principle of national sovereignty. Moreover, the enforcement of the “double standards” principle in international relations, which has resulted in so much frustration, has too often fuelled the fire of conflict; it is closely linked to the right of veto of the United Nations Security Council’s  permanent members, all of which are nuclear powers but which unfortunately refuse to protect those who are in danger when the countries’ geostrategic and economic interests are at stake.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me share the current reality of my country with you. For more than twenty years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have experienced the consequences of a strictly economic conflict, the sole purpose of which is to stockpile the necessary mineral resources to guarantee technological progress at the lowest possible price. To be able to own mobile phones and laptops, we need coltan, which is found in the Kivu region where I come from.

This conflict has resulted in six million deaths, four million refugees and internally displaced persons and hundreds of thousands of raped women who continue to flock to the Panzi hospital where I work. All the United Nations’ reports on the serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law have remained without effect. These reports languish in desk drawers in New York, thereby maintaining this organised chaos which benefits companies with mafioso and criminal practices.

Some of my patients who are victims of the war’s barbaric behaviour arrive in extremely serious and seemingly hopeless states. As a doctor, I have seen things which no surgeon should see. However, after a few weeks or months of treatment, care, supervision and holistic services, our patients transform their suffering into strength.

Today, some have become anaesthetists. This has always surprised me, because I thought that these patients, once they had recovered, would simply try to get as far away as possible. Those who choose to become anaesthetists do so because they cannot bear to let others go through the pain which they have experienced. Some have become lawyers because they could not accept the impunity which their torturers enjoyed. Others have become social workers to help the poor. Some have become teachers because they wanted to leave a better world for their children.

Today, all these women who have suffered in mind, body and soul are asking for justice to be done.

Women are presented too often as the victims of male violence. However, survivors transform their suffering into genuine power and women’s participation in efforts to build peace and to rebuild our society is long overdue.

Women know better than anyone what is good and appropriate for their children and for their community’s well-being. Society can no longer afford to exclude half of humanity’s voices around the negotiating table. For this reason, we aim to see women fully involved in crisis management and conflict resolution partnerships, because there will be no lasting peace without female participation. 

Ladies and gentlemen, when we live without peace, without freedom, without justice and without democracy, as we do in my country, we can fully appreciate their value and we have no choice but to fight for them every day, to leave our children with a different world, a better world, free from violence and injustice. You, living in a peaceful, democratic society, must take action every day to protect and nurture it! You must not wait until it is lost and needs to be reclaimed!

Every day, my staff and I are witness to the greatest human suffering but we transform pain into strength and respond to violence with love.

Every day, we fight for the human dignity of the victims of sexual violence and barbaric human behaviour. Every day, we are conscious of what life is like and we sow the seeds for a better tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, every single one of us can contribute to the development of lasting peace, can be a catalyst for change and for a better world. Every single one of us can be a peacemaker, in our circle of friends, in our neighbourhood, at school, at university, in our workplace and in our political parties. Every single one of us must be vigilant and refuse to be complacent in the face of speeches which seek to create hate and rejection.

Before it is too late, we must reject all forms of indifference to racism and sexism and we must mobilise against countries’ plans to curb their citizens’ freedom and to spread lies and hatred to benefit oppression and authoritarianism. We must be a bulwark against populism which feeds on ignorance and indifference to create a fear of others and to further an anti-democratic agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen, in a world which is too often characterised by egocentricity, we  are inspired by those who reject indifference. We commend the commitment of millions of volunteers who, just like hundreds of young secondary school students here, have contributed to sustainable development projects with the European programme Walk the (Global) Walk, who work for charities, who are driven by a desire to build bridges between individuals and cultures and who want to create a fairer and more equitable society, in the spirit of solidarity and fraternity.

You are the peacemakers, the people who will create a better, fairer and more peaceful world.

All of this leads us to commend the focus on remembrance of the Normandy Region and all the initiatives and work which are led by communities, teachers and associations. It is vital to pass on these memories to the new generations; this will help them to understand the world and its issues and to reject any normalisation of ideas based on exclusion and the repression of freedom.

Together, as citizens, responsible politicians, civil society organisations and the media, we can ensure long-lasting peace while rejecting the attacks on our fundamental rights and any shifts towards authoritarian and unequal regimes. Let us stay active and vigilant every day so that we can build bridges, spread the truth, work for solidarity, in the spirit of fraternity, and let us reaffirm our faith in human dignity, equality and freedom for all.