Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bernard Kouchner - global citizen of the month

As the man-made Burma crisis enters its third week, only three nations possess large, well-equipped naval vessels positioned where they can bring urgently needed assistance to some two million cyclone victims of the Irrawaddy Delta region at a moment's notice. These three countries are the US, Britain, and France.

The first country, Britain is reluctant to move in due to some kind of post-imperialist complex. The second, the US, cannot think straight because everything looks like another Iraq. This leaves France.

Although the task of bringing humanitarian relief to Burma may be too large for France alone, it will be up to France to take the lead, to convince the US and Britain to bring assistance to Burmese victims. And France might well have to lead by example.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that the last best hope for hundreds of thousands of Burmese cyclone survivors is the Foreign Minister of France, Bernard Kouchner. The BBC has a profile on this heroic figure, co-founder of the world's most widely respected humanitarian relief organization:
A doctor by training, he co-founded the Nobel prize-winning Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in 1971 to put his beliefs into action, after working as a young doctor for the Red Cross in Biafra in 1968 during Nigeria's civil war.

Seeing children there starve to death fired in him a lifetime's commitment to the cause of preventing humanitarian crises and bearing witness.

By creating MSF, "we were establishing the moral right to interfere inside someone else's country", he once told an interviewer.

In 2004, Time Magazine published a profile of Kouchner by philosopher and political essayist Andre Glucksmann, who wrote:
No pacifist consensus. Forget pleasant sentiments. This humanitarian breaks taboos and reveals matters that render us sleepless. Faced with the globalized inhumanity that is burning the 21st century, Kouchner is introducing a new humanism without geographical or political borders. He does it not to open the gates of paradise, but to bolt the gates of hell.
I noted in a recent post: "On Saturday France moved one very impressive piece of rescue equipment offshore the Irrawaddy Delta. . . ." We may be witnessing the finest hour in the long and distinguished career of a most distinguished global citizen.

Photos: Wikipedia and the French Embassy, Washington DC

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