June 21, 2019

Pacis Palmae Digniores Quam Tropaea Belli (The Palms of Peace are More Honorable than the Trophies of War)

By Sheila Turabaz.

On the 26th of September, the Great Hall of Justice of the Peace Palace – generally known as the courtroom where the hearings of the International Court of Justice are held – was not centered around dispute settlement but on the recognition and celebration of the efforts and accomplishments of noble individuals and organizations, furthering the cause of international peace “in whatever way, by word or deed in the form of international action, in literature, or the arts”. The Carnegie Wateler Peace Prize is the second-oldest award for peacemakers (after the Nobel Peace Prize). The Carnegie Wateler Peace Prize is awarded every two years and alternates between a Dutch and an international laureate.

Mr. Bernard Bot, Chairman of the Board of the Carnegie Foundation and Former Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, awarded the prize to Belgian war correspondent Mr. Rudi Vranckx during a ceremony attended by various dignitaries, among those ambassadors, diplomats, representatives of international organizations, Dutch officials as well as others who are active in the pursuit of peace and justice.

Mr. Vranckx has been reporting on war and conflicts around the world for thirty years, including the uprising against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, the Yugoslav Wars and various conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

As expressed by Mr. Bot Mr. Vranckx “was one of the last European journalists to leave Egypt during the violence of the Arab Spring. A job, or maybe even a way of life, that is not without risks. During an attack in Syria he lost his French colleague. The board of the Carnegie Foundation recognizes his enormous courage to travel to the most dangerous conflict areas in the world.” While adding that “In his reports and his many books Mr. Vranckx shows us the lives of many people in conflict areas. Thanks to his beautiful, in-depth, honest and sometimes heart-breaking stories he gives those people a face. Stories of ordinary people, about human beings just like you and me, but with a lot of impact. The stories of Vranckx inspire and encourage others to take action or at least ensure that those people are not forgotten.

Mr. Rudi Vranckx.

Mr. Bot also stressed the important role that journalism still plays in the prevention of war and the quest for peace: “through its capacity to investigate, journalism can help people question established ideas and reflect on pressing issues”. However, he also showed concern about the widespread phenomenon “fake news”: “The way information is distributed can also contribute to escalate conflict, providing information that is manipulated. In this sense, journalism and mass media greatly shape and impact societies.”, while adding that “the board (of the Carnegie Foundation) believes that access to independent information is crucial in the transformation to peace or in the prevention of escalating conflicts. A journalist that contributes to peace, focuses on trying to humanize all victims of a conflict, seeking to uncover the complexities behind violent driven situations. Mr. Rudi Vranckx puts all of this, in the best way, in practice”.

There is no more befitting location for a peace prize award ceremony to be held than in the Great Hall of Justice, surrounded by the goddess of Peace, Lady Justice , white doves and many other symbols of peace manifested through art.

Throughout the ceremony, musical intermezzo’s by Damast Duo – consisting of Syrian violinist Shalan Alhamwy and Belgian pianist and accordionist Jonas Malfliet – created a pleasant and inspiring atmosphere, blending Arabic music with Western European traditions.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Vranckx mentioned his efforts to stimulate creativity through the making of music despite the abominable conditions of the inhabitants in the war-torn Iraqi city of Mosul: “When passing by Mosul’s razed music academy, I heard Imagine. This may be a naïve song from my youth, but what I really heard in the midst of all this destruction was hope. So, we decided to bring musical instruments to Mosul. We called this project of hope Imagine Mosul. Thousands of Belgians responded with enthusiasm. It struck a sensitive chord in our own society, longing for hope and action against polarization and hatred. It gave me strength, because even as a journalist, sometimes in the darkness, you need this glimmer of hope. First and foremost, journalism must deliver accurate reporting, but it can be more. Because journalism can also be a means to an end: a just and fair society, without violence or hatred. Reach out through the heart, into the minds. We all need an antidote.”

Mr. Bernard Bot, Chairman of the Board of the Carnegie Foundation and Former Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Vranckx was awarded a certificate and 35.000 EUR prize money, joining the list of outstanding individuals and organizations – including Sigrid Kaag, current Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). to whom the prize was awarded since 1931.

Moreover, the first Youth Carnegie Peace Prize was awarded to the Colombian youth-led organization BogotArt for their initiative ‘Letters for Reconciliation’. The project was aimed towards fostering dialogue between civil society and FARC ex-combatants in Colombia.

As the winner is offered the Carnegie Wateler Peace Prize certificate, the Latin phrase Pacis Palmae Digniores Quam Tropaea Belli (“The Palms of Peace are More Honorable than the Trophies of War”) catches the eye: a saying, which is still as relevant today as ever.

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