A world of dignity

The death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations special representative in Iraq, robs the world of a calm voice of reason, humanity, and deep intelligence precisely when these qualities are most needed. In tribute, openDemocracy publishes his 11 November 2002 lecture on the universal character of human dignity.

In honor of World Humanitarian Day:

ScreenHunter_02 Aug. 19 17.26 By conservative estimates, some eight million men, women and children died in the Great War of 1914-18. Countless others were wounded, imprisoned, displaced or disappeared. Millions more were scarred by this horror, a horror that occurred among what are viewed as being some of the pre-eminent civilisations of that time.

The international community resolved, at the end of that war – whose anniversary falls today – never again to allow such human devastation. Governments banded together to establish the League of Nations, an organisation dedicated to promoting international co-operation and achieving peace and security.

Many consider the League to have been unsuccessful. They consider it so because it failed to prevent the outbreak of what became the second world war of 1939-45, which was a conflict – to the extent these comparisons have any meaning – still more terrible than the first.

Yet it remains a fact that the League’s creation did see the emergence of a deeper appreciation and awareness of human dignity and the sanctity of human life, as well as of the world’s growing inter-connectedness. It laid the foundation for the establishment of the United Nations and paved the way for the international protection of human rights. It is a source of pride to me that the office of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, which I arrived at only two months ago, is itself called the Palais Wilson – and was also the original home of the League of Nations.

More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]