November 19, 2002
New Delhi

PM's speech at the Presentation of the Indira Gandhi Prize to professor Sadako Ogata

I extend my warmest greetings to Professor Sadako Ogata on this happy occasion. Through this award of the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize, we express our appreciation for an outstanding humanist, who has devoted many decades of her life to the promotion of human rights, peace and development.

Professor Ogata guided, with sensitivity and dedication, the United Nations activities for the welfare, return and rehabilitation of refugees during a troubled decade. That decade saw massive human displacements in former Yugoslavia, in the Central African Great Lakes, and also in neighbouring Afghanistan – when brutal religious extremists took control of that country. It tested the generosity and burdened the economies of countries, which received the thousands of innocent people fleeing from violence and conflict.

We in India have a long tradition of welcoming in our fold all those who knock at our doors, while fleeing from persecution. Care for a ‘Sharanarthi’ – one who seeks shelter in our home – is a sacred duty enjoined by our spiritual heritage. Twice in the history of Independent India, we have had a large influx of refugees. We accepted them as part of our universal family. Thousands of them, now including the second and third generations, enrich our cultural diversity even today.

We also recognize our moral responsibility to work for the harmonious return of all refugees to their rightful homeland with peace, honour and security.

This is what Palestinian refugees have been looking forward to for over half a century. The strains and tensions in West Asia today are a direct consequence of the failure of the international community in sustaining a political process to ensure this.

Nearer home, the four million Afghan refugees, who fled their country over the past two decades, are gradually returning. This is only the beginning. The international community has to redeem its pledges of assistance for institution building and human resource development, so that Afghans from outside can return to a climate of political stability and economic recovery.

India has pledged 100 million dollars towards this objective, and is working closely with President Karzai’s Government to achieve it. But the magnitude of the task demands the participation of other countries, of non-governmental agencies, and of UN agencies in this effort. As Japan’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Professor Ogata has been playing an important role in mobilizing such an international participation.

Distinguished guests,

Human rights encompass many dimensions. To millions of the poor people in our world, freedom from want is the most fundamental human right. Destitution and deprivation deny human dignity. While those with resources and skills are in the mainstream, a special effort is required to draw in the distressed and disadvantaged. We need more international civil servants like Professor Ogata with the vision, compassion and commitment to pursue these humanitarian objectives.

Thank you~.