Comments: David G. Littman – representative of Association for World Education (AWE) and World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) at United Nations-Geneva:
Invited to a special Commemoration in Geneva for Henri Dunant: “honoring his life and humanitarian work” on the 100th Anniversary of his decease (30 October 1910), I felt a need to commemorate his centenary at the Human Rights Council Review session. We had already reminded the Council of the pertinent advice given in 2003 by High Commissioner for Human Rights SÃ©rgio Vieira de Mello, murdered in Baghdad with 20 colleagues four months later.
I was told by the NGO secretariat that a brief ‘In Memoriam’ commemoration to a pioneer of human rights, the founder of the Red Cross and 1st Nobel Peace Laureate would be out of place under item 3, but I could always try to find a way to introduce it the next day under item 4.
I took this advice seriously and – encouraged by a key NGO at the UN whom I shall not name – I prepared a serious text in the firm belief that, in view of the personality involved (‘Henri Dunant’), a way would be found (via the ‘rules of procedure’) to justify our In Memoriam intervention – this time speaking on behalf of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
On Thursday afternoon I arrived before the meeting had opened and handed my written text to the HRC secretary who promised to give it to the friendly Thai HRC president for eventual approval. An hour later, the president left for another engagement and the Chair was taken by his colleague, the friendly vice-president, Ambassador Ms Bente Angell-Hansen of Norway.
As the general debate continued, I was then informed the vice-president had read my text, but considered it ‘off the subject’ and it should not be delivered at the Review session. I asked the Norwegian delegation to check if the ambassador had read our text and it was confirmed; on learning this I expressed my astonishment, adding that I could not stay silent on this matter.
What struck me as ‘revealing’ was that the key NGO who had recommended me to persist in my request to commemorate Henri Dunant’s centenary was surprised when he saw the last paragraph in my statement that I had given in for the secretariat and the president to read:
At the same period when he initiated the Red Cross, he spoke out against what was then called: “Jew-hatred” (Judenhass in German) in all its perverted forms, soon after this obsession become known as Antisemitism  – today as Judeophobia. Dunant was also an active member of the Alliance IsraÃ©lite Universelle in Paris after its foundation in 1860.
My NGO colleague felt that this conclusion would be considered as a ‘political’ statement and would almost certainly result in very negative reactions and a ‘refusal’. His words rang bells, but did not convince me to remove that hidden truth of Henri Dunant’s lifelong humanitarian struggle – and I decided to add a paragraph on his ‘Christian Zionism’ if I was given the floor.
Finally, I was informed at the very last moment that the vice-president would not censure me, but that I would be requested, if I spoke, to keep to the subject and if I didn’t I would then be gavelled by the Chair. I was the last NGO speaker at 5:45pm, being interrupted twice before I felt obliged to stop – with a Parthian shot. Below is my exact circulated text, indicating where I stopped – and including the crucial passage on Henri Dunant as a lifelong Christian Zionist.
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WORLD UNION FOR PROGRESSIVE JUDAISM
United Nations Human Rights Council Review – Working Group (25-29 October 2010)
Chairperson: Vice-President Ms Bente Angell-Hansen, Ambassador of Norway to the UN
Statement by David G. Littman – Thursday (5:450pm) 28 October 2010
Agenda & framework for Programme of Work, Methods of Work, Rules of Procedure (Item 4)
Madam, we thank you for allowing us exceptionally – under the rules of procedure of item 4 – to make a public In Memoriam remembrance, on this unique occasion, to Henry Dunant, whose centenary will be commemorated in Geneva on Saturday, 30 October – the date of his death in 1910. It is fitting to recall – in this Alliance of Civilizations Room – that great 19th century visionary, founder of the Committee of Five in 1863, which became the International Committee of the Red Cross and his initiative in 1864 known as the 1st Geneva Convention.
It is 150 years since Henry Dunant saw with his own eyes a bloody military tragedy, where nearly 40,000 wounded, dying and dead remained on the battlefield with little attempt to provide care for them; it motivated him to act promptly.
Later in his book, Un Souvenir de SolfÃ©rino in 1862, he penned those memorable lines:
L’ennemi, notre vÃ©ritable ennemi, c’est n’est pas la nation voisine, c’est la faim, le froid, la misÃ¨re, l’ignorance, la routine, la superstition, les prÃ©jugÃ©s. [The enemy, our real enemy, is not the neighbouring country, it is hunger, the cold, poverty, ignorance, the routine, the superstition and prejudices.]
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[The speaker was here interrupted politely a second time and asked by the chairperson, as warned: “to stick to the subject of the agenda item.” He then ended his statement with the words: “Madam, if the centenary of Henri Dunant cannot be commemorated here, then all we can say is that such a ‘routine’ speaks volumes here.” Thus, the remaining text below was not pronounced.]
Totally engaged by his fervent humanitarian ideas, Dunant then experienced a disastrous personal bankruptcy which obliged him to leave Geneva, never to return. It was only 30 years later that he received public attention from a Swiss journalist, which led to his becoming six years later in 1901 the First Nobel Peace Laureate, with all due recognition by the Nobel Committee, whose moving words are worth recalling on this occasion.
There is no man who more deserves this honor, for it was you, forty years ago,
who set on foot the international organization for the relief of the wounded on the battlefield. Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of
the nineteenth century would probably have never been undertaken.
We would humbly request that the centenary of such a pioneer of peace and human rights – in the true, humanitarian sense of that word – would well merit a sign of commemoration on this occasion, in an appropriate manner to be decided by you, Madam, as President of this Human Rights Council now under its first Review.
In conclusion, Madam vice-president, the World Union for Progressive Judaism wishes to evoke a little-known, aspect of Henri Dunant’s lifelong humanitarian struggles. At the same period when he initiated the Red Cross, he spoke out strongly against what was then called: “Jew-hatred” (Judenhass in German) in all its perverted forms – soon after it become known as Antisemitism [in 1880], today as Judeophobia. He was also an active member of the Alliance IsraÃ©lite Universelle in Paris.
Sir, a last reminder on Henry Dunant – in 1866 he recommended a detailed project for “le repeuplement de la Palestine par le people juif.” [the repopulation of Palestine by the Jewish people], which was to become, eighty years later, the basis of Israel’s ‘Law of Return’. Four years before becoming the 1st Nobel Peace Laureate in 1901, he attended the First Zionist Congress in Basle (1897), where Theodor Herzl publicly honoured him as a “Christian Zionist”.
These Remembrances of Things Past deserve full recognition here at this Council.