12th December 2012 Beirut, Lebanon
Thank You for The Days, Those Endless Days…
This has been a fortnight of International Days. Disability Rights Day, Anti-Corruption Day, Human Rights Day. Probably more that I’ve missed. In each case, the issues at stake are too important for Lebanon, and the rest of us, to be ignored.
So, on Disability Rights Day, I teamed up with Fadi El Halabi, the inspirational Lebanese activist who has just been in the UK to study how public buildings are being made more accessible. Having checked that our embassy passed his tests, we agreed to lobby other embassies and public buildings to follow suit. And we’re supporting his call for parliament to ratify the 2006 UN Convention on disability rights.
This is all part of our work on the legacy of the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Last Sunday was International Anti-Corruption Day. Increasingly it is individual citizens that are leading action to expose, punish and – crucially – prevent corruption. Just look at groundbreaking initiatives like ipaidabribe.com in Kenya and India, or Kamashtak here in Lebanon.
To add to such efforts, I launched the Publish What You Pay/Revenue Watch Conference, supported by our embassy. NGOs from across the Middle East were there, working to highlight the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a mechanism that promotes accountability in oil and gas sectors. Iraq and Yemen have already signed up, and Tunisia is preparing its candidacy.
Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria are not yet members. But Lebanon is of course sitting on large oil and gas reserves (as we were reminded at the Lebanon International Oil and Gas Summit last week).
These reserves could meet – and exceed – Lebanon’s energy needs for years to come, provide reliable electricity and fuel, and generate income to improve the lives of a generation. But only if they are properly managed. I hope civil society will work with government to use the EITI to ensure that these resources become a blessing, not a curse.
Finally, yesterday was International Human Rights Day. I’m not sure what the correct collective noun is (a mob?, a chatter?, a huddle?, a corps? a smug?) for ambassadors, but over forty of us were in parliament for the launch of Lebanon’s Action Plan on Human Rights, the culmination of seven years of work.
As ever, the challenge will be implementation. Later in the day, I visited the site of the Ashrafiyeh bomb, to meet families and volunteers. Extraordinary work, with solidarity from across the country. Damaged buildings are being rebuilt, and families are returning – a great example of Lebanese resilience.
But the scars on the landscape, and on individual lives, are a powerful reminder that we cannot allow a return to a culture of impunity.
What do these Days have in common, apart from keeping Ambassadors occupied and inspired?
The power of individuals and communities to force change, using traditional fora such as parliaments, or under their own steam. All helped by transformational new technology. New and fluid coalitions are cutting across traditional boundaries, and it is good to be part of them.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead, pre-smartphone. #Leb2020