Archive Article Global Peace Assembly
February 28, 2009


A week is a long time in politics. There is always plenty of scope for change – and often that change can be for the better.

I have just returned from the Global Peace Assembly, held in Taiwan at the instigation of the Vice President of Taiwan, Annette Lu. The main speakers were five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, the largest gathering of such Laureates in east Asia. The Assembly’s overall intention was to generate ideas for improving relations between Taiwan and mainland China. The Assembly was very successful in that task.

At the Assembly’s opening session I was struck by the wisdom of the remark by the former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that “a week is a long time in politics”. Each of the five Laureates had an inspiring story to tell about the changes they created.

Frederik de Klerk was born into South African politics and in due course became the President of South Africa in 1989. He realized that the old ways of running South Africa on racial lines could no longer work and so he began the process of creating a multiracial South Africa. He released Nelson Mandela (then the world’s longest-serving political prisoner) and in 1994 the country held its first free election. Mr Mandela became the President and Mr de Klerk became the deputy president.

Dr Joseph Rotblat was born in Poland and went to England just prior to World War II. He was one of the creators of the atomic bombs. Like Albert Einstein he later developed doubts about nuclear weapons and worked with Einstein in campaigning for general and complete disarmament.

Oscar Arias Sanchez was elected President of Costa Rica in 1986. He played a leading role in bringing peace to a number of Central American countries caught up in conflicts.

Lech Walesa was an electrician in the shipyard at Gdansk in Poland who in 1980 led strikes for political reform against the communists. He formed the Solidarity movement in 1981 and he became President of a free Poland in 1990.

Jody Williams describes herself as an “ordinary working class American”. She was the founding co-ordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1992. The campaign led to the creation of a treaty to ban landmines in 1997 (one of the first decisions of the incoming Howard Government in Australia was to ratify the treaty).

Listening to each of these inspiring stories I was struck by how each person has made the world a better place by their determination to make a difference. Each person began in a small way in taking on an immense task. But they were not deterred by the size of the task – and they have been successful.

By the way, our host Vice President Annette Lu has her own inspiring story and also bears out the truth of Harold Wilson’s comment about the pace of change in politics. In 1979, at a time when her country was a dictatorship, she made a 20 minute speech on human rights and was then sent to prison for 12 years. After five years in prison she developed cancer and was released to undergo treatment. In the late 1990s, Taiwan became a democracy. She entered politics and became Vice President in March 2000 – the highest-ranking woman to be elected to office in 5,000 years of Chinese history.

The moral of all this: is that individuals can make a difference and that one should not be deterred by the size of the challenge to make the world a better place.