IPS: Graca Machel Receives International Achievement Award

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 18 1998 (IPS) - Graca Machel, president of Mozambique’s Foundation for Community Development, Thursday said that she accepted Inter Press Service’s 1998 International Achievement Award on behalf of the millions of children suffering from armed conflicts all over the world.

Machel, who is first lady of South Africa and former education minister of Mozambique, drew particular attention to the children she saw years ago visiting a refugee camp for Rwandans in the former Zaire – many of whom were comatose and who may now be dead.

“I was given an opportunity to touch them, to look into their eyes to feel the sense of despair,” Machel recalled. “I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep … This award is granted to those children, whether alive or not.”

Machel was honoured by IPS for her dedication to educating the people of Mozambique, and for her work as a UN special representative studying the impact of armed conflict on children. Her work in that field led to a 1996 UN report on protecting children in armed conflict, which in turn led to the appointment this year of a new UN envoy to deal with that issue, Olara Otunnu.

“Did we achieve anything?” Machel said of the report. “Yesterday, I was thinking, ‘No, I don’t think we did achieve anything at all’ … But we did give children a platform, and that alone is significant.”

She praised recent progress toward protecting children from suffering during armed conflict. Machel noted that growing concerns toward redressing crimes against children have led South Africa to include violations against children as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s mandate and to a peace campaign in Colombia which mobilised more than 2.7 million young people.

At the same time, she warned, there is much more work to do. “More children are being killed, more children are being raped,” she argued. “When are we going to say that we are reversing the process?”

Stephen Lewis, deputy executive director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), agreed, noting violations against children in armed conflict from the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the harm done by landmines in Afghanistan.

However, Lewis also recognised recent progress toward protecting children, notably the fortieth ratification on Thursday of the Ottawa Convention on landmines, by Burkina Faso, which paves the way for the treaty to take effect next March. Ultimately, he said, the Machel report “galvanised the international community … It was the right report at the right time.”

Francesco Paolo Fulci, Italy’s UN ambassador and the keynote speaker at the award ceremony Thursday night, also praised Machel for her efforts to increase literacy and schooling for Mozambican children ever since the country won its indepedence in 1975.

He hailed Machel as someone who has “led a lifelong crusade to assure our children, all our children, the right to health, education and respect for their fundamental human rights.” The motto of the Machel report, Fulci noted, is: “Transform moral outrage into concrete action.”

IPS Director-General Roberto Savio presented the award to Machel at a ceremony at the United Nations, in which the news service also drew recognition for its coverage.

“As we have come to associate Graca Machel with the education and rights of children, so IPS has become inextricably linked with communicating the struggles that abound globally in promoting human rights, peace and sustainable development,” said Kensaku Hogen, UN under-secretary-general for communications and public information.

He congratulated both Machel for her “remarkable work promoting education and protection during armed conflict of children in Mozambique and around the world” and IPS for its “unique coverage of development issues”.

The IPS International Achievement Award was established in 1985 to honour outstanding accomplishments in international journalism. Since then, criteria for the award have been expanded to include accomplishments in promoting democracy and human rights.

Awardees in recent years have included Randall Robinson, executive director of the US group ‘TransAfrica’ in 1995; UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1996; and Johannes Pieter Pronk, Netherlands minister for development cooperation, last year.

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