UNESCO PRIZE FOR PEACE EDUCATION 1999 PRESENTED TO ARGENTINA'S MOTHERS OF THE PLAZA DE MAYO

 

UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura awarded the 1999 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education to the Argentinean Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo which was represented at the ceremony by its President Hebe de Bonafini.

Honourable Mentions were also awarded to Irène Drolet (Canada), to the Association for Peace Education of Tübingen (Germany) and to the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Angola) during the ceremony which was opened by Dimitra Papadopoulou, President of the Prize Jury. She recalled some of the most celebrated past laureates, such as Paulo Freire and Mother Teresa and said, about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, that these women "have transformed their pain into an ethical struggle and movement."

During the ceremony the Director-General declared: "Wars and conflicts have deep roots: economic hardship, social injustice, political oppression, human rights violations. Another of these causes, and one of the most persistent, is ignorance [...] This is why education is at the heart of the construction of peace. Education for peace, human rights and democracy cannot be separated from any attempt to foster, among the young and the less young, attitudes of dialogue and non-violence, in other words, an education in the values of tolerance, openness to others and sharing."

Mr Matsuura spoke of the history of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo - an association created in 1977 by a group of 14 women who were asking the military dictatorship to give them news of their children who had disappeared. He also stressed the extension of their field of non-violent action: "They have just founded a popular university aiming to teach the values of life, of speech, of principles and of ethics and bestow on men and women the intellectual, political and ethical wherewithal to build a society with more justice and solidarity, better able to look after itself. With their valour and perseverance, in an exemplary fashion, these women are advancing the cause of justice and peace."

In her address, Ms de Bonafini spoke of the demonstration the mothers whose children have disappeared have been holding every Thursday for the past 22 years on Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires: "Every Thursday, we feel that our children are alive [...]. In the street, we have learned what our children had already told us: solidarity is the only way." She described how the mother's movement had extended its scope saying they had become the mothers of all: "Every time a man fights, our children come to life." She took the side of "those who have newly fallen on the wayside of the system," because of globalisation, "those who have no work and cannot feed their children." She added: "We are fighting for life. We continue to fight so that what has happened may not happen again, to create a generation of young people who will not corrupt politics."

Mr Matsuura also gave an Honourable Mention to the Canadian teacher Irène Drolet for "her very important work, both educational and ethical: to restore to schools their role as places where democracy is taught." Ms Drolet declared: "The present world situation expresses a deep crisis of democracy, of the economy, social organisation and moral values. This international situation poses a challenge to modern schools [to fulfil] their mission of socialisation and it calls upon them to support the development of values that are democratic, environmental, intercultural and open to the world."

Another Honourable Mention was awarded to the Verein fur Friedenspädagogik Tubingen (Association for Peace Education of Tübingen), which was represented by Uli Jäger and Gunther Gugel, for its "vast reconciliation and communication undertaking" and "its fight against discrimination and violence", notably through its World Learning Programme and the international campaign it launched on the occasion of the Football World Cup to reinforce fair-play in the sport. In his reply, Mr Jäger stressed that "it is necessary to explore new forms of peace education."

An Honourable Mention also recompensed the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians of Angola which is actively engaged in the struggle against the marginalisation of young people, particularly of young women. Mr Matsuura praised the Don Bosco Centre of professional training which they operate in Kakuako, "an outstanding educational experience in peace and co-existence" in a country prey to one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in the African continent. Representing the Don Bosco Centre, Lorella Figgini thanked UNESCO for drawing attention to its modest work: "This is a way to tell everyone that good, though it be quieter, is more powerful than evil and that Africa has many resources, particularly human resources, capable of giving new meaning to our times."

The US$25,000 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education was created in 1980 through a donation from the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation. It promotes actions which increase public awareness and mobilise opinion in favour of peace.