Q1. You have been widely published on topics such as HIV/AIDS, international health policy and medical ethics. With various countries having to deal with these issues on different levels, does it seem realistic to focus on international peace building when there might be other priorities?
That is a wonderful question and an extremely insightful question. There was a big meeting at the United Nations in New York about a month ago on this issue and it was such a big meeting that it was just before the general Assembly where all the countries meet. I was actually at that development meeting where all member states were in New York to speak about this. Parts of the millennium development goals (or at least six of them) are considered health issues. So when you are asking what are the most prioritized health issues, I believe the first is just before a child is born. This seems like something very simple, but if you can actually think about when the child is conceived and the development process that is an important place to start. What does that mean? Well, if we have these ideas. These ideas mean nothing unless they are practical. So what first? Nutrition. They have to have vegetables and food that is nutritious and should be able to drink clean water. These make a difference to the child that is developing within the woman. Also, if the woman is HIV positive for example and you don’t want that baby to be born HIV positive then what can we do? Well we actually know that transmission can be brought down by 35% if we give that mother medication before the child is born. It seems like something that can be done. Besides that, food security is another issue. There are so many places where there are natural disasters and people cannot produce enough food. Also, in terms of health in general there is violence. Sometimes we do not associate this with health but actually it is relevant. If you look at gun violence it is not just a developmental country problem. It is still one of the millennium goals to keep life. So something has to be done to combat violence against women, children, as well as rape and gun violence.
Q2. How would characterize the progress of the Millennium Development Goals regarding health proficiency?
Good question. To be extremely honest if you look at all the countries including the ones that we consider so developed-the EU, Germany and America, we are not winning. Why? The answer is we do still have a division in our society, and that division is not just cultural, racial or religious, it’s really economic. Economic division unfortunately has people on the other side of the economic divide. So we might be winning in the EU, but there are people within the EU who are really living in third world poverty. It might look different, because they are in a nice building and it looks different from a hut or a shack. But the education is not there, and while they can go to the school, it does not mean they are being educated. The nutrition is not there, there is violence in the household, and they don’t feel integrated. So when you ask me how are we doing with the millennium development goals, even those that should be doing well, including America, who has one of the highest rates of children who actually die before the age of five, and one of the highest rates of children who die before child birth. Why is that? (Even more than developing countries) So basically none of us, not one single country is meeting all of the millennium development goals, and very few are maybe meeting two of the eight. We can speak about what we need, but if you don’t put resources in terms of money, people, and commitment then it’s just lip service. You can’t expect lip service to give you what you need in terms of actually allowing goals to be fulfilled.
Q3. In our conference we address the issues of genocide such as the ones in Rwanda and Darfur. Do you think enough is being done by the UN and individual states to end massacres in various areas of the world?
There was a UN meeting in January, looking at security, women, and peace building. One of the issues that came up again was a very simple issue. When there is war and violence, and not peace, usually women and children, among others get displaced . They leave their homes; they leave what they know and what they don’t know. When that happens, and they are in these so called internal displacement camps, sometimes men and even young boys are pulled out to go to war. If they can walk, they are usually taken to be part of the war. But one of the difficulties they have their now, and it’s not just in Congo, but it’s rape as a form of violence, and not just that, but also genocide. When we talk about ‘genocide’ we can’t just use it lightly. Genocide means the deliberate actions to eliminate a group of people, and you ask how is rape that? What they want to is to destroy the individual, their will to live, their sense of security, and destroy their entire world. If they just happen to impregnate them, not only have they destroyed their will, they basically say “look what I am leaving behind”. So now we are looking at rape as a real tool unfortunately for genocide. What was really interesting about this meeting, they decided not only were they not doing enough, but they were also partly responsible for some of the difficulties within these camps. It’s not just a matter of we didn’t know about it, or see it, but they did know and they did see it. It’s not just a matter of peacekeepers saying, this is what we are supposed to do, and unfortunately some of those peace keepers have perpetuated some of those rapes. For one of the first times, there are people who are leading parts of the UN and are courageous enough to say we have made mistakes and have done something wrong, and we think there are ways to correct it. And not only are we not perfect, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. That is one of the areas that they are starting to hold themselves accountable for, including asking women to be a part of peace and security and negotiations with rebels afterwards Really looking at any kind of peace-building as it necessitates women to be a part of, because without that you have no peace-building as women are a major part of society Even more importantly they are the ones who raise the children who will be the next generation. Unfortunately, one of the areas the UN is lacking in, is when these young people, especially males get a little older in these camps, many of them are not getting educated and there seems to be no way forward for them. So what they do is they actually start turning to these rebels, or the ones committing violent acts through military actions go and actually recruit these young boys who are not even men yet. They become a part of the group and they can see a way forward. So this is one of the issues that the UN’s special rapporteur on violence is trying to deal with is that there is very little hope for the people in these displacement camps. Only now are they realizing that they missed something, and they have to look at what do they do in those displacement camps-looking towards education, and opening up schools with their culture. Also having programs that allow children to play, and when I say programs I don’t mean something that is very sophisticated, but you have a ball, you can do all kinds of thing with a ball. Also they are looking at the fact that many of them are psychologically traumatized, and this trauma does not help in the peace building process because people don’t have the possibility to be fully emotionally functioning people. We need to understand what happened, why it happened, so it doesn’t happen again. When we don’t do that, then we can’t see a future, and we can’t behave as if we want to build a future. So many of these children don’t have that, and as a result of that, the peace building that should be built in the next generation doesn’t happen because they haven’t been able to deal with what has happened to them when they saw what happened in their own experiences. The third issue the UN is trying to deal with is basically human beings recognizing what is happening to them, and figuring how and why they can make life better for themselves in the future.
Q4. Regarding to the division that are leading to these problems, what role can cultural understanding and cultural diplomacy play in preventing the reoccurrence of conflict among nations, states, and tribes?
Some of this is happening now. When people can’t be here and hear the information we are hearing, the stimulation of ideas here is different than in so many parts of the world. Bringing people together, not just former presidents and leaders, but participants are really together to understand and figure out what is it that we see-it’s like taking a picture from a camera. We can look at it honestly and try and figure out what is our role in it, and is there something we can do? When I think about the various issues that the world has to deal with, what we do here is very different because we bring different types of people together who have the common goal wanting to understand what they can do to make a difference in the world. But the truth is, it only takes a thought first, and then the actions follow. In order to sit down together, and learn from each other and share ideas, and then taking this information and translate this into a program that we see happening every day.