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Acceptance Speech by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Peace to UNHCR, University of Oslo, 10 December 1981

Speeches and statements

Acceptance Speech by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Peace to UNHCR, University of Oslo, 10 December 1981

10 December 1981
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Your Majesty,
Your Royal Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the gate of a school is written: here is more than you see.

When we in UNHCR today have the great honour and recognition to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, I must first and foremost express our warm gratitude. My thanks go to the King of Norway and the Royal family who have honoured us with their presence. They also go to the Nobel Committee which has nominated the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for this distinction.

I thank the Chairman, Professor Sanness, for the fine words he extended to us. We shall remember and cherish them as a constant encouragement in our work. And I thank this large assembly of outstanding personalities who have honoured us by their presence.

But while expressing my heartfelt gratitude, I must ask all of you to understand that this prize, which is so welcome, is addressed to many people. Here is more than you see.

It is my privilege to be the person who receives this prize and to express our gratitude. But I ask you to see behind me thousands and tens of thousands of refugees. They are in all parts of the world. Mostly in Africa, but also many in Asia, not a few in Latin America and some in Europe and North America. The announcement of the peace prize for 1981 having been given to UNHCR was a message to refugees that they were not forgotten.

I have no formal right to speak on behalf of all refugees, but I believe that I express their feelings when I say to the Nobel Committee: Thank you because you have reminded the world of refugees. Thank you because you, by your choice, have again directed the world's attention to the vast human problem of the refugees.

I also speak on behalf of all collaborators. All those in the voluntary agencies without whom we could not carry out our task. All those in the United Nations system who have also given their help. And all of us in UNHCR.

Imagine in front of you a crowd numbering many thousands from all nations and races who thank the Nobel Committee and Norway for this handshake.

Two names especially I should like to mention today. The first is Alfred Nobel - the inventor, the scientist, the creator of many industrial enterprises. But it is not only because of his prominent role in those fields that Alfred Nobel has become internationally famous. It is as much because of the farsightedness and magnanimity he showed when he bequeathed his fortune to the Nobel Fund. He wanted to further what could benefit mankind within the domain of medicine, physics and chemistry, what was produced in the field of literature "of an idealistic tendency" and what was achieved for the "fraternity between nations". Today, it is 85 years since Alfred Nobel died. What he decided in his will in the language of his time still has influence and leads in the direction he had visualized.

The second name is Fridtjof Nansen. This great son of Norway has performed feats of valour in many fields but he will be remembered especially for his idealistic and indefatigable efforts on behalf of refugees. For those of us involved daily in this work, his effort is a constant inspiration and therefore it is a special pleasure that Nansen's native land has given us this new encouragement. It is good to realize that it is in Oslo of all places that assistance to refugees gets this new handshake.

It is not empty politeness in honour of the event that we still mention Norway with thanks. The people and Government of Norway are among the best supporters of our work. An unfailing understanding of humanitarian causes is a characteristic of the country where we are today.

Nansen received the Peace Prize in 1922 not least in recognition of his work for Russian refugees. His Office got the Prize in 1938 for a wider circle of refugees but still in Europe. When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees received the prize for 1954, the European refugees continued to be at the centre. The great honour that is bestowed on us today comes to an operation which covers the whole world.

It is the United Nations that gets this prize.

Now, is this reasonable? When it is the nations themselves that create discord and war? Yes, indeed they do. But it is also the nations that jointly have decided that the refugees must be protected legally, must share in human rights and must be relieved.

But, is it more than ambulance-service? We help the victims of discord and suppression, but will it create peace?

I answer: First, when you are in distress you do not spurn ambulances and first aid. Further, in this field there is a close connection between causes and effect, between misery and the victims of misery.

Without going into political considerations that would lead us too far, I should like to say that peace is not only an "absence of war". Peace is not only something that is founded among nations. Not only that these nations do not wage war with weapons and do not kill each other. Peace is more than that. Peace is also something positive, a brotherly disposition, solidarity with other people, readiness to help, mercy towards those who are in distress and an understanding that human rights are due to all of us. If we crave for freedom, justice, equality before the law, it must apply to all. I asked a refugee who could not return to his country where he would like to settle. He answered: in a place where I can bring up my children in freedom.

If that is what we wish for ourselves, then it must be valid for all. If we are serious about the word "human rights", they must be valid in general. No nations, groups or races can be excepted.

This understanding formed the basis of Alfred Nobel's idealistic attitude. He created his peace prize from those thoughts. This peace prize still has a great influence in the world because it reminds us of the hope we all cherish that peace may rule instead of war, brotherhood instead of inhumanity.

The incentive in Fridtjof Nansen's work was the same feeling of solidarity with the individual. Modelled on Nansen's work, the United Nations decided in 1950 to establish a High Commissioner, an ambassador, a spokesman for refugees. That is to say somebody who could take up the cause of people who have been forced to leave their country on account of persecution and, therefore, who do not have a national ambassador to speak for them.

When this United Nations agency today received the peace prize it is in the knowledge that we work in the spirit of Nobel and Fridtjof Nansen.

We are convinced that as long as there are political refugees it is also a part of the work of peace to help them. Not only to help them survive but to help them to a new hope, a new life. A contribution to recreate human dignity is also a contribution to peace. Conversely: if the international community does not help the refugees it may lead to conflicts. Unsolved problems may poison not only the life of the individual but also the community.

This year is the United Nations Year of Disabled Persons. Among the refugees there are also these who are physically or mentally disabled. You could rightly say that they are doubly affected. They are both disabled, compared to all normally endowed, and they are once again disadvantaged by being refugees.

In UNHCR we intend to set apart the peace prize to form a fund for disabled refugees. We will use the funds to provide hospital care, artificial limbs, wheelchairs, all of which might otherwise be difficult due to lack of money. It seems to us to be in keeping with Nobel's attitude that we should show solidarity with the doubly disabled.

Thus, we receive the peace prize in Alfred Nobel's spirit. Just as the event today stimulates and encourages us, we hope that it will make people and nations understand that refugees are fellow beings and that peace and freedom can only exist if they also include them.

Here is more than you see. Here is a perspective of which people must never lose sight.