Words of welcome: 2011 Olof Palme Prize

On January 27, in its 25th award ceremony, the 2011 Olaf Palme Prize for International Understanding and Common Security was given to Lydia Cacho Ribeiro and Roberto Saviano for their tireless and often lonely efforts to expose criminal networks despite great personal risk. Before the award, the Prize chairperson addressed the two honoured guests and an illustrious audience.

Dear friends,

A very, very special welcome to our two guests of honour, Lydia Cacho and Roberto Saviano. We also welcome the family of Olof Palme. It may please you to hear that a few days ago, I received an email from an old friend in Greece who was exiled in Sweden during the military dictatorship there. We cooperated together with Andreas Papandreou and Mikis Theodorakis, and many more, in the Swedish Committee for Democracy in Greece, until the colonels were forced to leave power. The other day my friend sent me the following message: “I am working hard on writing a book on Olof Palme. He is an example of how politicians in Greece should and must act today. It is all about ethics and morality.” Thus the legacy of Olof Palme lives on, also in today´s Greece.  

Friends, you have come here from all walks of life and society to honour our two outstanding recipients of the Olof Palme Prize. We accordingly welcome members of the UN family, the foreign and Swedish diplomatic corps, a former prime minister and three former foreign ministers, the mayor of the city of Malmö, government officials, members of the European and Swedish parliaments, representatives of the arts, theatre and other cultural spheres, the community of engaged advocacy and solidarity, the Red Cross, Save the Children and Amnesty, religious congregations, publishers and national and foreign media, members of think tanks and foundations, private enterprise and banks, academia and adult education, trade unions and political parties, peace, women and human rights organizations including the Swedish chapter of ECPAT. We also welcome the newly elected party leader of the Social Democratic Party, Stefan Löfven. You and your wife, Ulla, are regular participants in our award ceremonies and we are happy that you too could make it here today.

Our gratitude goes to the Social Democratic Party Group who provided us with this august meeting place, the old second chamber of the Swedish Parliament. 

Since 1987, we have awarded the Olof Palme Prize to men and women from all the continents of this globe, people who have stood up for human rights with exceptional courage and dedication. They cannot all be cited now but let me mention a few.

The first recipient in 1987 was Cyril Ramaphosa then Secretary General of the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa and a leader of the African National Congress that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

Two years later the Olof Palme Prize was handed over to Vaclav Havel in Prague for his consistent and courageous contributions to truth and democracy. A few months later the Communist regime collapsed and Havel became president of Czechoslovakia.

In the new Millennium, in 2002, the Prize went to Hanan Ashrawi from Palestinefor her consistent and fearless fight over the years for her people’s independence and dignity and as an inspiring symbol of a new, democratic, peaceful Middle East.

In 2004 three Russians shared the Prize:  Anna Politkovskaja, Ljudmila Aleksejeva, Sergej Kovaljov “for their great courage, often matched with considerable personal sacrifice, risk- free speech and a free press and human rights”. Anna, with whom you both had a strong relationship, was brutally killed two years later.

In 2006 the Prize went to Kofi Annan and the human rights defender Mossaad Mohamed Ali from Darfur. Kofi is in town participating in another ceremony today in commemoration of the centennial of Raoul Wallenberg´s birth. We just had the pleasure of meeting with Kofi Annan and his wife Nane, and he sends his warm congratulations to all of you here. 


And last year, the Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad El-Sarraj, peace and human rights activist in Gaza, got the Prize “for his self-sacrificing and indefatigable struggle for reconciliation, and peace in a region characterized by violence, occupation, repression and human misery”.

Allow me also to recognize the presence here some of our previous recipients. With us here today are Björn Fries and Kurdo Baksi, who together with the Parent Group in Klippan won the Prize in 1999, for “their long, persistent fight for tolerance and openness, and against racism and Nazism in their own country.”

A struggle that, sadly, is still very necessary in the twenty-first century. The horrors of the mass murder on the Norwegian island of Utöya are still on our mind and in our hearts and will so be for a long, long time.   

Among us is also Hans Blix, the 2003 recipient, for his work against the spread of weapons of mass destruction on the basis of international law. He has under circumstances of strong external pressure demonstrated independence and a commitment to principle which have inspired respect and admiration throughout the world. He did so during the Bush war against Iraq and he does so today advocating diplomacy not war in the case of Iran.

And lastly on this issue, the Olof Palme Prize recipient in 2005, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is now free at last. We have recently been in contact with her, and she declared that she would very much like to come to Sweden to personally receive the Prize. She has never been to Scandinavia before and looks forward to it, “at the right moment”. In April she is, as we know, a candidate in the elections.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, to the 2011 Olof Palme Prize which is awarded to Lydia Cacho from Mexico, and Roberto Saviano from Italy.

They receive it:

"for their tireless, selfless and often lonely struggle for their ideals, and for the benefit of fellow human beings. They are individuals who with extraordinary courage are acting despite the risk to their lives. They remind us of the necessity to direct our attention toward countries that we would otherwise regard as democracies, countries in which particularly women and children are cruelly exploited, enslaved and destroyed by global criminal networks, which in turn also threaten democracy itself as a system”.

Let me first turn to you, Lydia Cacho. You are a feminist, human rights activist, journalist and writer, noted for your campaign against corruption among Mexican politicians and businessmen. In 2005 you published the documentary book "Los demonios del Edén", which reveals a paedophile network with ties to persons of high station in the community. You have also founded the organization "Centro Integral de Atención a las Mujeres" (CIAM) against the oppression of women and for their welfare. In Las Memorias de la infamia, 2007  (Jag låter mig inte skrämmas, 2009) you describe how young girls who had denounced their torturers and rapists were exposed to another nightmare; the people who were supposed to help them, local and national authorities, judges and courts, did not protect them but instead often persecuted them. This cruel irony of justice was the effect of having challenged influential men and their criminal networks in collusion with economic and political power. In your exposure of these crimes and in your defense of these young, often children, you yourself became a target, a prisoner and a victim. You were as you said “kidnapped and harassed by the law”.

But Lydia Cacho was not any victim, this one fought back and with a vengeance. In your latest book "Esclavas del Poder” (Slaves of Power, 2010), also published in Swedish last year, you expose and denounce global trafficking and its cartels and mafias. You spent five years of research and travel on it, and you conclude that “the worst enemies of the exploited women and children on the global sex market are the consumers and their best friends could be the millions of men who say ´no´ to this modern form of slavery”.

Your country is going through hard times, with drug wars and massacres of innocent civilians. But you are in your work and by your personae showing the world the other side of Mexico, a people we like and a nation we respect. Benito Juárez who served five terms as president of Mexico,   resisted the French occupation, overthrew the foreign French-Austrian Empire, restored the Republic, and became  a progressive reformer  once said

"Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" - "Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace."    This is also what you, Lydia Cacho, have shown in your dedicated mission.

Roberto Saviano, in your book "Gomorrah", which also became an award-winning film, you revealed the Camorra mafia organization to a wider public. In an essay included in your 2009 book, "La Bellezza el'Inferno" (2009), you paid tribute to your murdered colleague Anna Politkovskaja. Your latest book "Vieni Via Con ME", are stories based on your experiences and knowledge of the influence on Italian society by the Italian mafia.

For this you are paying a heavy price, which never, never should have been allowed to happen. Your writings and personal example contributed to the fall of that disgraceful regime that was Berlusconi´s. You know that as fellow Europeans Italy is a country that we love, so we have followed with pain events under that regime.

Your country has now a well- respected prime minister but you are still insulted and under constant threat by powerful criminals. We see you as a true patriot and intellectual within the outstanding tradition of Italian culture and intellectual life. You have expanded the Cartesian thesis of Cogito, ergo sum to Escribo, ergo sum. You say that “writing has given you the possibility to exist”, that it is a “way of waging resistance”. And that your dream is that “the written word still has the weight and power to change reality”.

Meeting people, being seen and heard by people is your way of breaking an imposed isolation.

Above all, you put your hope in being read, listened to and understood by your fellow citizens and readers world-wide. Only by collective action, by public concern and pressure, can change be achieved. The pen can be mightier than the sword.

You come under difficult circumstances to receive this prize and you come with a message. It is up to us all here, who, in the far and cold North, now have the privilege and pleasure to see, hear and read you, to embrace your message and turn it into action. Hopefully, your stay here will also bring some light into your camarae obscurae, your dark rooms.      

Finally, before passing on the word to Lisbet Palme I would like inform you, Lydia and Roberto, about three Swedish colleagues of yours, who like you have taken great risks as journalists for the cause of truth.

Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, accused of plotting against the state, with wife and three children in Sweden, has spent more than ten years in jail in Eritrea without trial.  Last month Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were sentenced to 11 years in prison in Ethiopia accused of terrorism and entering the country illegally. Their only mission was to investigate the doings of a Swedish-led international oil company in the Ogaden province. I feel confident that we all can agree in joining our voices to ask for their release not least on humanitarian grounds.  

Thank you.

About the author

Pierre Schori is a former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations after a long career at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where he was Minister for International Development Cooperation, Migration and Asylum Policy, and Deputy Foreign Minister from 1994-1999. He served from 2005-2007 as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of Mission in Côte d’Ivoire, responsible for the 10,000 civil and military personnel that integrated the complex peacekeeping mission. From 2007-2009, he was Director General of the Madrid-based think tank Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE). Pierre has also been a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Adelphi University, New York from 2004-2005, Guest Professor at the University for Peace in Costa Rica in May 2010. He is currently the Chairperson of the Olof Palme Memorial Fund