Anne-Marie O’Reilly writes on the Right Livelihood Award presentation and the inspirational people she met there.
Last week my CAAT colleague Henry McLaughlin and myself were lucky to represent thousands of people’s contributions and years of work when we travelled to Stockholm to accept the Right Livelihood Award for CAAT. The experience was both humbling and inspiring. Humbling to stand alongside the other incredible award winners, who have dedicated their lives to making change; inspiring to make connections between our work and what others across the world are doing.
In our speech, we quoted Eamonn McCann, who stood trial for the part he played in shutting down his local arms company: “We believe that one day, the world will look back on the arms trade as we look back today on the slave trade, and wonder how it came about that such evil could abound in respectable society.” Our experience gave hope that that day is not centuries away.
Among the other award winners was Sima Samar, who ran the only girls schools in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and whose life remains under threat for her dedication to pursuing human rights. Despite the threats that hang over her, she spoke with warmth and optimism about the possibilities for a peaceful future in Afghanistan if military spending is redirected to education.
Eighty-four year old Gene Sharp has dedicated his life to uncovering and sharing the principles of effective non-violent action. He spoke with wit and clarity about the opportunity people have to make change – if we are prepared to learn from the past: “There is a widespread growing hunger for knowledge about nonviolent struggle… the Arab Spring and other developments have let the genie out of the bottle and it cannot be put back in again.”
His Albert Einstein Institution has identified the places it considers most likely to have uprisings in coming years – something CAAT could bring to the attention of our government who claim that arming dictators does not entail a clear risk those weapons are used for repression.
We also found resonances between our work and that of the impressive Turkish environmental network TEMA, founded by Right Livelihood Laureate Hayrettin Karaca. TEMA challenge the impact of multi-national corporations on the soil and people’s livelihoods. They see the brunt of policies which put profit before people and the environment. We were inspired to hear of an organisation that has trained over 2.5 million people, and pleased that our work next year will address shifting public spending priorities from arms to renewable energy: recognising the links between our environment and the arms trade.
Our Swedish counterparts, Svenska Freds, face very similar challenges to us. In Sweden, arms exports have tripled since 2001, and it now exports more weapons per capita than any other country. Like in the UK, the rules state that weapons which have a clear risk of internal repression or external aggression should not be exported. Like in the UK, they are routinely ignored, with deals to authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia remaining the norm and a government arms promotion unit keeping it that way.
But in Sweden, campaigners have succeeded in establishing a parliamentary inquiry to make democracy a consideration in arms exports. We met a Green Party MP who is determined to make it work, and heard from Svenska Freds how they aim to close the gap between policy and practice.
It was an honour to be able to share some of the successes that CAAT has achieved, and to hear from such diverse quarters that the work of campaigners in the UK is an inspiration to others. From icy Sweden, to Afghanistan, Turkey and the USA we can make common cause, learn from each other and make a difference.