Saturday, March 17, 2007

On St. Patrick's Day -- Homage to Sean MacBride

Sean Macbride was the most illustrious Irishman ever to be associated with UNESCO. MacBride was the Minister of External Affairs of the Republic of Ireland when the Council of Europe was drafting the European Convention on Human Rights. He served as President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from 1949 to 1950 and is credited with being a key force in securing the acceptance of that Convention.

He gave his name to the MacBride Principles, which established a code of conduct for U.S. firms operating in Northern Ireland. The MacBride Principles are considered to have provided Irish-Americans with a direct, meaningful and non-violent means of addressing injustice in Northern Ireland. They appear to have significantly advanced the peace process in Ireland.

MacBride was also a founding member of Amnesty International and served as its International Chairman. He was Secretary-General of the International Committee of Jurists from 1963 to 1971 and was elected President of the International Peace Bureau. He was Vice-President of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC, later OECD).

Some of his appointments to the United Nations System included:
* Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations
* President of the UN General Assembly
* UN High Commissioner for Refugees
* UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
MacBride's was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1974) as a man who "mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice." He later received the American Medal for Justice (1975) from President Carter and the UNESCO Silver Medal (1980).

Dr. Sean MacBride was born on January 26, 1904. His father was Major John MacBride, one of Ireland's legendary heroes who fought the British at Jacob's factory during the Easter Week Rebellion; John MacBride was sentenced to death by the English and executed at Kilmainham Jail on May 5, 1916. The mother of Sean MacBride was Maud Gonne MacBride, a beauty and one of the strongest advocates of Irish Nationalism. W. B. Yeats idolized her in many of his poems.
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
-- From "When You Are Old," William Butler Yeats
The UNESCO Connection

From 1977 to 1980, Sean MacBride served as the President of UNESCO's International Commission for the Study of Communications Problems. While the Commission was very distinguished, and included another Nobel laureate (Gabriel García Márquez), its report is still known as the MacBride Report. According to Andrew Calabrese ("The MacBride Report: Its Value to a New Generation")
The MacBride Report, and the call for a "new world information and communication order" (NWICO) that followed, precipitated the decision by the U.S. government to withdraw its membership from UNESCO. In a letter dated December 28, 1983 from Reagan administration Secretary of State George Schultz to UNESCO director-general Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, the reasons for the U.S. withdrawal were given. Equal emphasis was given to issues of mismanagement and "the injection of political goals beyond the scope of the cooperative enterprise" (Schultz, 1984, p. 84). What was clear to all involved was that the decision was made on behalf of big mass media and telecommunications industry interests in the United States.
However, Calabrese concludes (writing in 2005 on the 25th anniversary of the report and after the return of the United States to UNESCO)
Much has changed since the MacBride Report was published, not only in global politics, but also in global communication. The year 2005 and the WSIS do not mark a stopping point in a global dialogue about the right to communicate, but this year is an auspicious occasion to commemorate the political legacy of the MacBride Report. Despite the geopolitical limitations that filtered the contributions of its authors, they had the foresight to hope for a kind of "globalization" that, rather than signify divisions among citizens of the world, acknowledged our common humanity. With all of its flaws, for which progressive communication activists understandably have distanced themselves over the past twenty-five years, the MacBride Report projects a spirit of hopefulness about how a better world is possible, about the continued importance of public institutions as means to ensure global justice at local, national, and transnational levels, and about the value of global communication as a means to knowledge, understanding and mutual respect. For these reasons, the anniversary of the MacBride Report should be celebrated, and the complexity of its legacy understood, by a new generation of communication rights activists.
Ireland is coming to the end of an 800 year long conflict, and Sean MacBride was one of Ireland's most important and best known advocates for peace. That national background gave his address on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize special relevance. In that address MacBride concluded:
If disarmament can be achieved it will be due to the untiring selfless work of the non-governmental sector. This is what Alfred Nobel appreciated in his days. It is more urgent than ever now......The signpost just ahead of us is "Oblivion". Can the march on this road be stopped? Yes, if public opinion uses the power it now has.
Reading the conclusions and recommendations of the MacBride report today, they seem remarkably relevant and important. They also seem to reflect MacBride's understanding of UNESCO's fundamental role in promoting peace first in the minds of men!

Comment: This posting represents my opinions, and not necessarily those of other editors of this blog nor of Americans for UNESCO. JAD

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't UNESCO educate its readers that Sean MacBride, Nobel and Lenin Peace Prize-winning former Chief of Staff of the IRA, Ireland's favourite bunch of terrorists/freedom fighters, was such a distinguished servant of Peace and Human Rights, that Jimmy Carter, US President 1977-1981, hired a Time Machine to go to award MacBride the American Medal for Justice in 1975 :)