Nobel laureates encourage young people to address poverty, racism

DENVER – Ten Nobel Peace Prize winners issued an unprecedented “call to action” to young people this weekend, asking them to mobilize against racism and poverty and work to secure the rights of women and children.

“Action is very important,” said the Dalai Lama, opening a Friday afternoon news conference where the Nobel laureates outlined their agenda.

“Prayer is not sufficient,” he said as part of the three-day conference in Denver sponsored by PeaceJam, a Colorado organization that brings together Nobel Peace Prize winners and young people.

At the event, which drew 3,000 students from 31 countries, peace prize winners called for a decadelong effort to tackle 10 challenges facing the world and said they would work “side by side” with young people to make a difference.

“We say, go for your dreams and reach for the stars and help God make this a more compassionate, a more caring, a more gentle world,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, in inspirational remarks.

Several of the peace prize winners used the occasion to voice disdain for the U.S. war on terror and related policies.

“We must shout loudly against any national government that puts aside human rights in the name of national security,” said Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for her work promoting a non-violent solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

She made clear she was referring to Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. is holding suspected terrorists without bringing legal charges against them.

Turning her attention to the war in Iraq, Maguire said, “We can’t solve these deep ethnic problems through militarism and war. We cannot use the old ways; they no longer work.

“We must talk to our enemies. That means America talking to al-Qaida and Israel talking to Hezbollah. We all know in our hearts when dignity is taken away from us,” Maguire added.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, an Argentinian human rights leader, evoked gasps when he spoke of a letter he sent to President Bush asking him “to stop the craziness which is the war in Iraq.”

“Bush is a man who says he prays a lot, but I think God covers up his ears when Bush prays,” said the 1980 Nobel laureate.

Shirin Ebadi was the first woman in Iran to become a judge; her work on behalf of women and children was recognized by the Nobel Committee in 2003.

“I am very sorry about the sad events of Sept. 11 but I wish that the United States of America would have built one school in Afghanistan for each of the victims” instead of going to war, she said. “We would have seen the number of terrorists decrease then in 10 years.”

Her topic was the need for a different definition of security, one centered on caring for people instead of lavishing resources on national defense.

“Will those marvelous weapons keep us safe? No,” she said, answering her own question. “If you have nothing to hope for, why not strap a bomb on yourself?

“If we want to see the world become a different place, we can and must make different choices,” Williams added.

That involves “disarming our armed consciousness” – or breaking down the internal walls that prevent us from acknowledging or responding to the suffering of others, said Esquivel.

He spoke of a report that came out on Sept. 11, 2001, only minutes after two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, killing almost 3,000 people.

“More than 35,000 children died that same day and die every day of hunger,” but that news receives no attention, Esquivel noted.

“I call that economic terrorism.”

As a group, the Nobel laureates called for the end of house arrest for their colleague Aung San Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy leader.

The United Nations on Friday agreed to new talks on Myanmar, providing some hope that her freedom might eventually become possible if international pressure continues, Tutu said.

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