The President of Malta

Speech by H.E. George Vella for the Albabtain Distinguished Lecture, 6 May 2022, Sant’ Anton Palace

Professor Alfred J Vella,

Professor Aspaslan Ozderen

Dr Omar Grech

Excellencies

Distinguished lecturers

Dear Students

Let me first of all, begin by thanking the Centre for the Study and Practice of Conflict Resolution at the University of Malta, for taking this initiative, and for involving the Presidency – and me personally – in this most welcome event.

Professor Alpaslan Ozderen, I also extend my appreciation for your presence here, knowing that you had to take a long journey to join us.

I am pleased to recall that my cooperation with the Centre led by Dr Omar Grech is a long-standing one, going back to my days as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta.

During my term in that capacity, I had made it a point to involve the Centre not only in events dedicated to addressing conflict resolution, but also in the actual formation of students, both local and foreign.  

A system of scholarships had been introduced, which I am very satisfied to say is thriving and rewarding academics and benefitting students alike.

In the meantime, and particularly following my Inauguration as President of Malta in 2019, contacts through an old friend Prof. Abouli Touhami, started to mature with the Al Babtain Cultural Foundation, which, while based in Kuwait enjoys a very wide outreach in the Gulf, Europe and the Mediterranean.

The Centre for the Study and Practice of Conflict Resolution, and the Al Babtain Cultural Foundation are very similar in that they both, in their own ways and with their own tools, work for the promotion of peace and dialogue.

I had the pleasure of witnessing ‘hands-on’ the credentials and organisation of the Al Babtain Foundation as I co-hosted with the Foundation, a Forum for the Culture of Peace, here in Malta on 3-4 March. 

Besides, I also participated in a similar Forum in The Hague in 2019, hosted by the same Foundation.

The Chairman of the Foundation, Abdulaziz Al Babtain, whom I salute with profound respect, participated personally in the Malta Forum, that saw the active participation of numerous international scholars, academics, political figures as well as students and journalists.

Had it not been for some Covid restrictions, participation would have been much, much bigger.

Above all, the Forum was a further attestation of the contributions that Malta continues to make to the strengthening of dialogue and mutual understanding, way beyond its shores.

The timing of the Forum was a very sensitive one, as it coincided with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which started two weeks before.

In that very delicate scenario, one was right to expect a general consensus condemning in the most categorical and unequivocal of terms, what was happening in Ukraine, while expressing sympathy and full support to a whole civilian population being bombarded from land and air.

The Forum also drew up a number of recommendations, which I believe we all agree upon.

These span from the reinforcement of preventive diplomacy, gender empowerment, listening to our youth, the promotion of harmonious multi-faith societies and stronger controls on the sale and distribution of small arms and light weapons.

These goals lie at the heart of the Al Babtain Foundations’ work and this is why when it approached the Presidency in 2021 with the prospects of concrete and tangible cooperation on instilling a culture of peace, we immediately thought of the Centre for the Study and Practice of Conflict Resolution, as a natural partner.

It was a matter of joining the dots really.  The two institutions complement each other.

Here we are today – implementing the very first step of a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the Centre and the Foundation last year.

I found it very gratifying to see the successful and quick conclusion of the MOU, which could only happen due to a shared and genuine willingness on all sides, to cooperate on achieving common objectives.

The provisions are ambitious, yet at the same time very doable.

The MOU for example, establishes an Endowment for Peace which consists of an annual fund that covers a full scholarship as well as the establishment of an annual academic seminar focusing on ‘Building a Culture of Peace’.

It also envisages academic exchanges between Malta and Kuwait, which is a practice – that of exchanges – that I have supported all through my political career, knowing full well that these exchanges lead to fruitful academic, formative and cultural enrichment for all parties involved, while leading to the building of bridges, and personal contacts that last.

What we managed to create together, is in itself an instrument of peace, and it gives me great satisfaction that my Presidency was a promoter of this achievement.

Distinguished guests,

The issue of peace-building is a most timely one, especially against the present backdrop of events in our European neighborhood.

Let us be reminded that as we are comfortably gathered here, millions of people continue to escape war, persecution and misery. Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians, harassment, sexual abuses, displacements of whole communities, and the increased spreading of fake news and devious propaganda have become the order of the day.

The shocking images reaching us continuously in our living rooms, from Ukraine are testimony of our failed commitment to prioritise the interests of humanity over military might and political interests.

The invasion and occupation of another state by means of force or other structural ways of coercion, infringes directly on the core principles subscribed to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and casts a dark cloud on the future of humanity and peaceful coexistence in a democratic society.

This reminds me of the immediate Post World War Two years, which I lived through as a little boy, in a Malta which was left destroyed physically and down on its knees economically.

Like many other children born during the war in besieged Malta, our chances for survival were meagre.

I count myself among the lucky ones to have survived the high infant mortality prevalent at that time, and the harsh living conditions faced by people under siege and constant bombardment, and living on very meagre rations, spending long hours in underground shelters hewn out of live rock.

Life was not easy, and the post-War years were a continuous struggle to establish again basic necessities, accessible and good quality health services, and dignified employment.

As the country shifted from a military colony shattered during WW2, towards a peaceful and prosperous sovereign state, citizens continued to mourn their loved ones killed in the war or those leaving the Islands to distant, far away countries as migrants in search for a better quality of life, essentially becoming economic migrants.

These are the realities of war and its aftermath.

In 1948, the international community agreed to say ‘no more’ to the devastating realities caused by violent conflict, persecution and war. The international community developed the most comprehensive document to preserve and advance the well-being of humanity – United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

I am sure that as academics, diplomats, students and citizens of the world, we all realise how important these declarations are and how we as a family of this shared planet, can harbour in our hearts and minds, policies by which to maximise the well-being of humanity over any other political and economic interests.

The leaders who worked on the UN Declaration of Human Rights shared a vision, one which has been passed onto us with great responsibility.

As President of a nation which I love dearly, and as father and grandfather, I now feel more responsible than ever, to rekindle and fulfil this vision.

Together, we share a common responsibility to strive for peaceful solutions and a harmonious existence.

Military action is never justified in replacing diplomacy, negotiation and dialogue.

We have the moral duty to seek negotiation and dialogue and to respect one another instead of threateningly pointing smoking guns at each other.

Most importantly, we should unite against aggression, against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and against a culture of deceit and political bullying.

We already have the values and the means to promote a more just and peaceful world.

Events around the globe provide ample warnings as to what happens when peace is replaced by war.

Let us give peace increased prominence in our multilateral and bilateral dialogue.

Most importantly, let us all do our part to strengthen international instruments to safeguard and ensure that human rights are respected and protected, and that all citizens irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, creed or gender are guaranteed a dignified existence, without exclusion.

Thank you.

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