Peace, non-violence, human rights and the environment – if only everybody saw these as the seamless whole that they are, maybe all our respective causes would be further down the road towards a better world than we seem to be today.
For the Right Livelihood Foundation, they are indeed a seamless whole – and always have been from the time the Right Livelihood Awards were first set up in 1980.
I blogged on this in May 2012.
This year’s winners have just been announced, and four more deserving winners it’s hard to imagine.
I’ve got to start with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) – not least because this was an organisation that I actively supported back in the 1970s (they were founded in 1974) and 1980s, when I was with the Green Party and Friends of the Earth.
By any standards, a world that still spends around $1.3 trillion on arms every year has to be described as insane – when we’re facing such chronic security issues around society, the economy and the environment. But it would be just that little bit insaner were it not for organisations like CAAT and the European Network Against the Arms Trade.
Much of what is done in the name of the arms trade today might well pass some kind of ‘national security test’. But much of it never has and never will – this is a powerful global industry characterised primarily by secrecy, corruption and dodgy deals of every imaginable kind.
CAAT has shone a light on those realities for decades, and inspired countless people in the process.
The simple truth of it is that the arms trade today, on balance, undermines our security rather than enhances it. And though I’ve never had the privilege of meeting him, I suspect the second Right Livelihood Laureate would argue that even more passionately than I might.
Hayrettin Karaca is Turkey’s best-known environmentalist, a successful businessman and a tireless campaigner – and a man who knows better than most that a nation’s security depends at least as much on the quality of its soil and the health of its forests as on the amount of money it spends on arms and military defence. Here’s what TEMA (the organisation he set up back in 1992) says about that:
“Erosion today affects 90% of Turkey’s land area; 750 million tonnes of top soil are washed away annually. Deforestation continues apace as oak forests are cut down and replaced by pines, or not at all. Environmental degradation reduces agricultural productivity and hastens rural-urban migration – with industrial and urban expansion taking place on agricultural land. It also poses a severe threat to Turkey’s exceptionally high biodiversity (with 10,000 plant species, 3,000 of which are endemic).”
The analysis is spot on. And the solution has been inspiring: protect all of that natural capital (forests, soil, fresh water, biodiversity) by addressing rural poverty head-on through the improvement of livestock breeding, the production of fodder crops, the introduction of good agricultural practice, eco-tourism, rehabilitating pasture, fruit cultivation, horticulture, reforestation and training.
Simple really. Enable people to feel secure by securing the natural systems on which their lives depend. By building security from the bottom up, a nation has a far better chance of protecting its people and its borders than by any other means.
But people like Karaca continue to pay the price for their steadfast defence of real local security. He is currently fighting a law suit against a big mining company in the west of Turkey, which has accused him and local villagers of trespass. If they’re convicted, they could be imprisoned for up to six years.
That kind of personal threat – to life and liberty – is all too familiar to Sima Samar, an extraordinary human rights campaigner in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is her citation:
“Sima Samar is a doctor for the poor, an educator of the marginalised, and a defender of the human rights of all in Afghanistan. She has established and nurtured the Shuhada Organisation that, in 2012, operated more than 100 schools and 15 clinics and hospitals dedicated to providing education and healthcare, particularly focussing on women and girls. She served in the Interim Administration of Afghanistan and established the first-ever Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Since 2004, she has chaired the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission that holds human rights violators accountable, a commitment that has put her own life at great risk.”
Gene Sharp is the final Laureate – and perhaps the best know advocate of the politics of non-violence alive today.
He started out on this path at the age of 25 (in 1953!), and has stayed true to that cause since then. His best known work is called “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, published in 2004, and is hugely admired by political activists and academics alike.
Such different lives, following such different paths – but all united in a common cause.