Honourable Members of the French Assemblée Nationale,
Esteemed Representatives of the United Nations and the international community,
Distinguished Guests from Lebanese civil society and the media,
Let me start by conveying the warm regards of Ambassador Kindl, who unfortunately is unable to attend this ceremony, but whose good wishes are nevertheless with us tonight.
Let me thank you, Ambassador Grillo, for hosting this event at your beautiful and impressive residence. We are convening here at a special place of historical depth and cultural meaning. How fitting an environment! The award-winner herself, our esteemed laureate Monika Borgmann, has dedicated a large part of her work to probing the meaning of history and heritage for the formation of identity and for co-existence.
It is in the spirit of the productive partnership and friendship between France and Germany that we are jointly conveying this prize. As you are aware, the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law acknowledges the achievements of outstanding women and men around the globe for their contributions to the protection of human rights.
Monika, you are an outstanding defender of human rights.
What is it that makes your work so special? I would like to reflect on three aspects:
There can be no doubt that you are very courageous, Monika. For many years, together with your husband Lokman Slim, who is dearly missed, you have been addressing pressing issues of human rights that others did not dare take up or preferred to forget. You make use of the freedom of speech, in a peaceful and constructive manner, even when speaking out on issues that are coupled with very real risks.
We all know that Lokman Slim payed the highest price for raising his voice in the same way. Nevertheless, you decided to press on with your work. Even more, you decided to stay in the Slim family’s mansion in a neighbourhood, where many people hold opposing views to yours and Lokman’s. For sure, with your continued presence, you are not taking the easy path, but the way of courageous perseverance.
As diplomats we can describe issues, we can name facts and we can try to convince others - but our means are limited. In certain situations, words of officials might not be enough. Sometimes, a creative approach can be much more powerful. A notable example is the documentary film “Tadmor” you and Lokman Slim produced in 2016. The movie is both a documentary and a piece of art: former detainees speak about their experiences of severe human rights abuses and war crimes; their testimony, as presented in this film, is a most impactful message. The audience will not only get information, but emotional insights including a glimpse of what happened in that infamous Syrian prison of Palmyra, Tadmor, in particular during the Lebanese civil war.
The memory of the individual and the memory of a community are complex issues. Psychology and cultural research tell us that memory is not a fixed or stable entity, but rather the product of dynamic processes, prone to change and adaptation. People remember their lives differently over the years, and the collective memory of communities or societies is constantly formed, re-formed and re-framed. That is why the archive you have set up and continue to expand is very important. There are not many public archives in Lebanon, so the country is highly dependent on private initiatives. Your organisation, UMAM, has done tremendous work in this regard. You are maintaining a treasure-trove with thousands of publications, documents and artefacts, which you make accessible to the Lebanese public. Moreover, your projects, such as the “MENA prison forum” or the “Hangar”, are tools to encourage exchange and critical debate.
From our history, we know that the critical examination of the past is not a straightforward affair. To the contrary, it is difficult and fraught with obstacles. It requires, among other things, a readiness to open up and to confront what has been denied and suppressed.
Also, it can take time, a very long time… And sometimes generational change is required.
In order to give Lebanese individuals from different communities a chance to dig into the past and discuss its meaning for the present, your archive and your projects, Monika, matter a lot. They can contribute to the forming, debating and re-forming of collective memory.
And they can inspire a new generation of people living in Lebanon to build on this basis their own way into a peaceful future in which respect for human rights and human dignity shall be the cornerstone.
Monika, your work is inspiring to all of us here.