When Nobel Peace Laureates meet. The 17th Nobel Summit.

When Nobel Peace Laureates meet. The 17th Nobel Summit.

Make your mark for peace!

The first Nobel Summit was organized 20 years back, initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev with resources from the Nobel Peace Prize, which he earned in 1990. Nobel peace laureates have met almost every year since then, to strengthen their engagement for peace, to discuss topical questions of interest to world peace and make suggestions for action. Strong recommendations have been made, not least in relation to non-violence, nuclear disarmament and the relation between peace and the environment. See www.nobelpeacesummit.com. The high-level meeting also gives the participants the possibility to discuss their own on-going projects and create a deeper understanding, cooperation and networks.

The 17th Nobel Summit was organized in Mexico, 19. – 22. September this year with the theme Make your mark for peace. 30 laureates met 10 individuals and 20 organizations. I was invited to speak on peace education, which was a top theme this year, but ended up also representing IPB since Lisa Clark, who took over after me as co-president of IPB, last minute had to cancel her participation.

Since the meeting was in Merida on the Yucatan peninsula, it was natural that the situation of Indigenous Peoples and what the world can learn from them was high on the agenda. Some 60% of the inhabitants of Yucatan have Maya-Indian ancestors. With the climate and environmental crisis, perhaps we are ready to listen more carefully to old Maya Indian wisdom about the relationship between Mother Earth and us, and see the intimate relations and interdependences that we have allowed ourselves to ignore for far too long? Listening to Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Nobel peace laureate in 1992, speaking about the sacred land of the Maya people and seeing how she operates among her own people with deep respect, care, love, and encouragements, was among my strongest experiences during this summit. We were also taken to visit traditional Maya villages and see their wonderful pyramids, some up to 3000 years old. The Secretariat of the Nobel Summits reminded us of the Earth Charter, developed by the Club of Rome, not least by President Gorbachev, Maurice Strong and Federico Mayor from UNEP and UNESCO respectively. The Earth Charter presents fundamental principles for a just, sustainable and peaceful global society. It should continue to inspire us.

Mexico has been at the forefront of nuclear disarmament. The Mexican diplomat Alfonso Garcia Robles got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 for his disarmament efforts together with Alva Myrdal. He was one of the initiators of the treaty of Tlateloco in 1967 that established Latin America and the Caribbean as a nuclear weapon-free zone. Mr. Robles was both thanked and honoured during the meeting. And how it felt good to be in a nuclear weapon-free zone! For our survival, the planet as such should urgently become nuclear weapons-free. Mexico also hosted the second of the big meetings on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. The first meeting was in Oslo and the last in Vienna in December 2014, which led to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The struggle for nuclear disarmament remains central to the work of the Nobel Summits. A special statement was agreed and partly integrated into the final Merida statement. Nobel laureates urge governments to sign and ratify the UN Treaty.

The level of violence is lower in Yucatan than in the rest of the country, but still too high, in particular violence against women. Yucatan, like the country and the bigger region, is also struggling with poverty, inequality, joblessness and an insufficient health system. The governor of Yucatan, Mauricio Vila Dosal, made commitments to strengthen his peace efforts, seemingly with great engagement and enthusiasm. Also, the President of Mexico, Manuel Lopez Obrador, honoured the meeting with his presence. He was reminded of his commitment to establishing a commission to work on the prevention of violence. I had a fruitful meeting with the Minister of Education and the minister of Women’s Affairs of Yucatan and their staff together with Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 together with Malala Yousafzai. We got a good insight into the challenges of the school system, not least in relation to sexualized violence and pregnancy among schoolgirls. They are all set to start with peace education at different levels of the school system. They were interested e.g. in the relevant normative instruments of UNESCO, in the UNESCO Associated Schools Project and the civil society project Global Campaign for Peace Education, developed out of the Hague Appeal for Peace.

Over the last years, it has been conceived as increasingly important to involve young people in dialogues with the Nobel Peace Laureates. This year some 1200 students and teachers participated, half of them from Mexico and the other half from different countries. The students were present in the plenary sessions and organized peace labs and workshops to further deepen their knowledge. I met the students in the two plenary panels I participated in on nuclear disarmament and on peace education, Love of power or power of love. And I contributed to a workshop on the nuclear danger, together with the Peace Boat. The students also developed their own Youth statement. Both students and Nobel laureates supported a Friday School strike for the environment – and a future. Based on preparatory work done by IPB, I had a ”strategic change impact meeting” on peace and technology convened by Scott Cunningham and Lisa Short. A mission statement was developed with the view to develop ”a social impact community stock exchange” to help amplify grass-root voices for peace, hopefully, to be presented at the next Nobel Summit.

On the last day of the Summit, several prizes were given. The Peace Summit Award went to the singer and well-doer Ricky Martin, who answered with a fierce show. This year’s publication on Nobel laureates, Being Nobel, developed by Livia Malcangio of the Permanent Secretariat of the Summit was given to everybody. The whole Secretariat, and not least the president, Ekaterina Zagladina, deserves a lot of credit for having organized yet another big and successful summit. I left with new knowledge and new inspiration to continue the work for peace, however hopeless it may feel from time to time. Hopefully, both the final declaration and the strong urge to build a culture of peace will be useful also for those who were not present in Merida.


Ingeborg Breines

Sigerfjord, Norway, October 2019