From 12–14 December 2014, Rome played host to the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, held every year since 1999. Last year’s event was attended by 20 guests as prestigious as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, laureate in 1989; Dr. Shirin Ebadi, founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran; Tawakkol Karman, co-founder of Women Journalists Without Chains and campaigner for democracy in Yemen (and also the youngest winner in the history of the Nobel Prize, in 2011); Betty Williams, the well-known advocate for the resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland; and Jody Williams, known for her work in banning and clearing anti-personnel landmines. Also in attendance were representatives from international organizations like Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Peace Bureau.
This 14th summit was dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, who died in 2013 and who himself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. His famous words, “It always seems impossible until it is done,” were quoted on the first day, pointing up the urgency and effectiveness of efforts to achieve peace.
“We have the responsibility to create peace,” said the Dalai Lama at the start of the summit, “because we first created violence.” His address was immediately followed by Betty Williams’s proclamation that “peace begins with me,” thereby echoing Gandhi’s words: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The message was very clear: we are all called upon to build a happy world at our own level of individual responsibility—in the simplicity of family life, our job, and our immediate environment. “Moreover, conviction creates effort,” added His Holiness with a big smile.
The proponents of peace also called on governments to renounce armed interventions since they have never proven effective, and also to allow emerging nations to build their own democratic systems while helping them to develop education and health care. With one voice, they also highlighted the urgent necessity of abolishing nuclear weapons and of focusing on the potential for conflict to arise from population displacement through climate change. Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained that in the last three years, such refugees had already tripled to 32 million, with women and children experiencing the greatest suffering. “We must have the courage to invent our future,” reiterated the laureates to the large audience.
Emotion hit a peak when the Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci received the prize traditionally awarded at the end of each peace summit. When Bertolucci, who directed The Last Emperor and Little Buddha, entered the hall in his wheelchair, the Dalai Lama came down to greet him, and made the traditional Tibetan Buddhist offering of a white scarf. Bertolucci read his acceptance speech while His Holiness held the microphone, and spoke of trying to increase awareness of the need to help those who, like him, are confined to a wheelchair. He also told us that before proceeding to make Little Buddha, he had sought the Dalai Lama’s permission. His Holiness had replied that of course he could make the movie, because every human being is a Buddha! Rendered speechless in the presence of such love, we enthusiastically joined in the thunderous applause.
The event concluded with a press conference, at which an important question was addressed to the female participants about the role of women in leadership. His Holiness immediately voiced his support, saying that they should play a more active role. Tawakkol Karman added that women all over the world should lead the change. She declared that we need a woman president in the USA, in Russia, in Iran, in China, in Saudi Arabia, and at the UN. “If women were in power, war would not take place,” she concluded.
The mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, formulated the conclusion of the summit by proposing a total rewrite of the famous Latin phrase, “If you want peace prepare for war,” as “If you want peace with your enemy, work with him for peace and you will at last become partners.” The Nobel Peace laureates chimed in with “From peace come the respect and love of others.” These inspiring words resonated long in the Julius Caesar Hall, where the meeting finished on a high note. We will carry them in our hearts until the next World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, scheduled to be held in Atlanta in late 2015.
Olivier Adam is a member of Dharma Eye–The Buddhist Photographer collective. To learn more about Dharma Eye and Olivier’s work as a photographer, see the Dharma Eye website.