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Comment of Screening Committee Members

Screening Committee for the SAKAI Peace Contribution Award Chikako Taya

 I would like to say a few words about today’s awards.

 Mr.Jehan Perera, please let me offer you my sincere congratulations.

 It’s now five years ago since I retired, but I once served as a judge at the International Criminal Court on War Crimes in the former Yugoslavia. As I’m sure you all know, the process of fragmentation whereby the former Yugoslavia broke up into separate nations was accompanied by bloody civil wars between its various ethnic groups. To this day, a great many people are haunted by the question, why did people who had hitherto lived together in harmony suddenly become so barbarous towards each other, and why did the intelligentsia just stand by and do nothing to stop them? Many among the intelligentsia, indeed almost all, just went with the flow and said nothing. There were those who opposed what was going on, but even they fell silent as soon as they felt themselves to be in any danger. Nevertheless, however few, there were still some people who ignored the dangers and stuck to their principles. Many of them were tortured and murdered along with people from other ethnic groups. This is all historical fact.

 However, when the trials began after the war, there were many who said that those people could have said and done more to stop the killing. But what I came to understand was just how difficult it must have been for people to put their own lives on the line in order to stand up for what was right and take action. I wondered whether, in such times of conflict, above all else the most important human values might be sticking to one’s principles and not losing oneself in the events of the time.

 Jehan Perera’s peace activities truly represent these ideals, and they have left a very deep impression on me. According to this morning’s papers, the conflict in Sri Lanka is continuing to escalate, but I truly hope that this award will draw more attention to Mr. Perera’s activities, increasing his freedom to carry out his work, and help build the foundations of peace.

 I would also like to congratulate Dr. Yoshioka on receiving his award. I have heard how in Myanmar, in the aftermath of the recent cyclone, hardly any humanitarian aid reached the affected areas.

 I’ve also read in the newspapers about the political situation in Myanmar. Than Shwe, the aging leader of the military government, rules the country according to the principle that the people don’t need to know why, only to do as they are told. He decides everything on his own without consulting with anyone. Since he decides everything with one accompanied person, nobody even knows who will be the next successor. Only he seems to know what’s going on. Doing peace and humanitarian work in such conditions must be very difficult indeed.

 When it comes to medical aid organizations, Médecins Sans Frontières is of course very famous, and so it is all the more tremendous an achievement to have set up Japan’s own independent organization, with its own approach, i.e. technological cooperation and the transfer of nursing expertise. I sincerely hope that Dr. Yoshioka’s work continues to grow in scale, and becomes acknowledged all around the world.

 Finally, I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Ms. Yamashita, of the Japan-Nepal Female Education Association. I have also visited Nepal myself, as a part of the ODA Investigation. I have experienced first hand not only the poverty in the region, but also its geographical inaccessibility. There are seemingly endless accounts of how women from the region, poor and with no education, end up selling their own bodies across the border in India just to survive. The Japan-Nepal Female Education Association worked hard for many years in Nepal to provide teacher-training opportunities, following the model of the former teacher-training colleges in Japan, and their efforts have really begun to pay off. With the ODA having finally petered out and so many other projects failing to bring results, it was retired teachers and instructors who at last launched a project with real promise, through which they could make the most of their own experience. I hope that their work meets with ever-greater success.

 Thank you everyone.

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