The Sophie Prize

Speech by Sophie Prize Winner Eva Joly

Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is a great honour for me to be awarded the Sophie Prize. I accept it with a huge debt of gratitude and with an enormous sense of my own inadequacy.
By Gro Eva Farseth Joly
Thursday 14 June 2012

I am proud to be the prize winner for the year 2012, and I find it encouraging that my battle against corruption and my efforts for the environment have been recognised by such an acknowledged international moral authority as the Sophie Foundation. The Sophie Prize is a prize that drives us towards our highest objectives: despite the atrocities and harshness prevalent in our world, we are not prisoners of destiny. As Alberto says to Sophie in one of his first letters: “There is one thing we all need; we need to know who we are and why we are alive.” Jostein Gaarder is right: without independent thought and independent actions, we are not free women and men. Our actions and our words are important; we have the chance to influence history and to create more justice in the world. Throughout the world women and men are being tortured, murdered, imprisoned and subjected to suffering and humiliation in their quest for justice; and they are the ones whose brave actions every day are saving the world. These women and men are more worthy of this prize than I am.

Including my name among the list of prize winners serves as a lesson in modesty. How can one live up to the ideals of Wangari Matthai, who died last year, or to Marina da Silva, the presidential candidate in Brazil? Compared with their accomplishments, my own achievements have been truly modest. Wangari was an unrelenting militant who fought for human rights and for protection of the environment, and she became the first African woman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. A pioneer for millions of women in her battle against deforestation, she was imprisoned dozens of times after chaining herself to trees. She became a symbol of the environment in Africa, and with her Green Belt Movement, she planted and has encouraged others to plant some 30 million trees.

Marina da Silva has fought against the cynicism of the Latifundios – owners of large agricultural estates – who are ruining the Amazon Rainforest, often with the blessing of the powers that be, while marginalizing the indigenous population at the same time. She was a simple grass-roots militant, and like Wangari, she became Minister of the Environment in her own country, stepping down when she discovered that, despite her endeavours, she was unable to prevent widespread destruction of the world’s “green lung” and to stop the indigenous population from falling deeper into misery.

These two individuals have three things in common: they are women, and they have fought for development and for the environment in their countries. In waging their battles, they have had to fight against corruption that is ruining civil and political society in their countries.

First I would like to say that the future of this planet is reliant on women.

I understood this when I met with Japanese women a few kilometres from Fukushima. I saw their suffering and, at the same time, their resolve to combat nuclear imprudence and to fight for the future of coming generations.

I understood this when I spoke with women in Dunkerque, in northern France, the widows of victims of asbestos poisoning who have seen their spouses die terrible deaths.

I understood this too when I met with Senegalese women in Dakar, women who fight for their families’ survival every time the textile and agricultural markets open, after the Europe’s fishing fleet had emptied the sea of fish, wiping out the very basis of existence for local fishermen.

Women in India from the Chipko Movement mobilized resistance against deforestation. And the women and children of Syria are paying far too high a price for the actions of Assad’s barbaric clan. Whenever women have taken action against crises, against disfigurement of the environment, dictatorship and against poverty, they have also seen the connection to patriarchal violence against women, against the people and against the environment. If the world of finance is faceless, poverty has a specifically female countenance: access to land, to work, to credit and to services is especially difficult for women.

Wangaari and Marina have both understood that war and peace, disfigurement or protection of the environment, breaches of or defence of human and democratic rights, poverty or well-being, the presence of moral and spiritual values, and understanding or failing to understand our fellow human beings are not isolated phenomena that can be analysed separately and independently of one another. These phenomena are interrelated and must be understood from such a point of view. Today there is an obvious link between corruption, poverty and a worsening of the environmental crisis. While it is true that corruption has always existed, in our global village where politics all too often means administration, we can clearly see corruption for the cancerous growth that it is. It underscores the unbearable aspects of social difference and undermines honest work. Wherever we find most corruption, we also find plenty of poverty. Wherever there is corruption, the environment will always be under threat. Since the environment has become a profit centre, corruption has reared its head this market too. Managers of multinational energy companies or extraction industries snatch up natural resources in developing countries, supporting dictatorships and allowing destruction of the environment. Corrupt officials let ships loaded with toxic chemicals or hazardous waste enter ports, permitting them to spread toxins that pose a threat to the population. Corrupt politicians line their pockets by allowing multinationals to buy or rent fertile land on 99-year leases, leaving the country’s population to go hungry in the process. People who once tended the land, themselves descendants of long lines of farmers, but who possess no papers showing they own the land, are being robbed of their rights and left to starve, before reluctantly relocating to ever growing metropolises to become one of the countless numbers of disadvantaged individuals desperately trying to eke out a living there. Corrupt customs officials allow the Italian ecomafia to invade Eastern Europe so that illegal hazardous industrial waste can be stored there. Corruption is observed at every stage of water distribution: from the drafting of water policies and determination of budgets to the way invoices are issued. Corruption affects every country, be it rich or poor. In developing countries corruption increases the price of hooking up to the distribution grid by some 30 per cent. Corruption is not only a moral question. It is a political, social and environmental issue.

Corruption is a global phenomenon with a high political, social, financial, health-related and environmental price. Corruption represents an attack on human rights and on the very foundation of democracy. It undermines one’s sense of belonging in society and creates amongst the population distrust of institutions and of leaders. Corruption obliterates the distinction between public and private. This distinction is something that symbolizes states governed by the rule of law. By privatising the state to the benefit of one’s own personal needs, or the needs of a clan, one’s party or one’s family, the corruptor and the corrupt weaken the state, and ruin the state’s legitimacy. They also deny the country’s citizens equal access to markets, to jobs and to public services, thereby destabilizing the state.

I first observed these phenomena when I was a magistrate in Paris. Later I saw this in my work for the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Norway and for the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). We focused on the battle against corruption in development work, forming the “Corruption Hunters Network” with like-minded investigators to strengthen our task of combating corruption. After a while I made the decision to become a politician. If one not only wishes to highlight porosity and the link between power and money, but also wishes to propose solutions, it is necessary at some point in time to choose this route. And that is what Wangari and Marina have done before me. They too chose green politics since green politics is not an ideology reserved solely for the rich and privileged. In developing countries and in emerging economies environmental politics is the answer to the needs of the poorest. Environmental politics is not a luxury for the rich. Preserving our common legacy is life insurance for the poor. When water, earth and air become merchandise, the lives of billions of people are immediately endangered.

I would now like to outline the means we have at our disposal to build a more just world, with dignity for all. First we need a new basis for world order. The tools we currently have available were devised after the end of the Second World War and adapted to the Cold War. They are no longer suited to the modern world in the twenty-first century, a world where multipolarity, globalization and a worldwide domestic policy has become the rule. The United Nations has become a body that registers massacres. The WTO is an entity that arbitrates between multinationals and wealthy companies. A new world order can only be created if we can introduce states governed by a global rule of law. To do so we need to have in place an overarching world law, above international law, which is only really interstate law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) has developed stronger and more universal values that those enshrined in the UN Treaty, which was a compromise produced by the victors of the Second World War. We have to choose between these two perceptions.

We also need to bring an end to tax havens. They create a world-wide system of Apartheid and a mafia model for economies. These sanctuaries of crime and unlawful finance launder money made from criminal actions, from drugs deals and human trafficking, in addition to providing a haven for the extravagant profits of multinationals. Unlawful and uncontrolled flows of money play a key role in the destabilization of nation states and of the world economy. In addition, they give rise to currency speculation. Huge sums of money have been accumulated over decades in order to evade taxes and avoid investigation. Tax havens are today places where a parallel world is organized, a world filled with ships registered in “flag states”, delocations and free zones. Half of the world’s financial transactions go through tax havens, outside states governed by the rule of law. They create their own egotistical sovereignty offshore, where other interested parties are excluded, and offer banking secrecy and impunity.

And finally, we need to establish a world status for communal utilities: for water, for the climate, for energy, for non-renewable resources, for living things, for seeds and for knowledge. In order to protect these benefits, it is necessary to establish an international court like a World Organisation for the Environment, one which is empowered to impose sanctions, and a separate section in the International Criminal Court for crimes against the environment, which can be perceived as crimes against humanity.

In order for these reforms to be completed, we need to achieve a broad-reaching change in our mentality. Our perception of communal utilities is on the retreat everywhere and is gradually being replaced by egotistical and mercantile values. If the elite and public opinion do not react energetically to the weapons of mass destruction that ethics and respect for law represent, the project of civilization borne by Europe will slowly die out. I refuse to accept the idea that we must subject ourselves to an oligarchy created by money. The power of the poor is much stronger when it is set in motion: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and many, many more have proven that power can move mountains.

Let us all strive to produce a world that ought to exist. Even though we know that oppression will always exist amongst us, we can continue our quest for justice and dignity. Even though we know there will always be wars, we can continue to strive for peace. This is the world’s hope. In the twentieth century, and now in the beginning of the twenty-first century, we have been able to introduce the greatest system of international law and international institutions that humankind has ever had. We need to take care of these institutions, because they have been developed thanks to huge sacrifices and immense efforts. We need to defend the treasure these represent. If we are capable of getting public opinion to understand the value for humankind of the legacy we have, it will then be easier to protect it, extend it and to achieve something even more ambitious for coming generations. We need to think about the future of humankind. We must bear in mind coming generations and not only our contemporary period. The way we pollute endangers the future of humankind. We have to consider that we do not own the world we live in, we are only tenants, and we cannot do whatever we want any way we wish.

If we hope to be able to resolve our disagreements peacefully, we must also target the cause of conflicts, since peace not only entails the absence of conflicts but also the presence of justice. If we can manage to give justice a presence, we will then be able to live in a peaceful world. For all of these reasons, defending the values of justice, integrity and dignity is so important. If we are to manage to rid society of distrust, we need to realise that battling against corruption is not a burden; it is a prerequisite for our regaining our self-confidence. Corruption fuels injustice, and the fight against injustice has always been at the heart of all unrest. Today injustice is at the centre of indignation and upheaval throughout the world. Uniting the battle against injustice with the fight for our environment and our planet will give us good reason to believe in the opportunity we have to create a more just world. This colossal project is our common concern. Although I have lived several professional lives, my goal has always been the same: to combat injustice wherever it may be found.

It is with considerable joy, pride and hope that I accept this prize.

The Sophie Prize gives me renewed power but also responsibilities.

I thank you for this show of faith and for your trust in me.

I will do my utmost to prove myself a worthy prize winner.

Thank you.


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Liv Røhnebæk Bjergene

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