SECRETARY-GENERAL PRAISES WORK OF SISTER JOANNES KLAS, RECIPIENT OF 1997 NANSEN MEDAL FOR SERVICES TO REFUGEES19971013 This is the text of a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delivered on his behalf by Yves Berthelot, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), at the Nansen Medal Award ceremony today in Geneva:
I am pleased to join you in paying tribute to Sister Joannes Klas, the 1997 recipient of the Nansen Medal for her exceptional contributions to the cause of refugees. Sister Joannes has been a staunch advocate for the rights and well-being of Guatemalan refugees since 1982. In the true spirit of Nansen humanitarianism, she has worked with them at the grass-roots level -- first under difficult and insecure conditions in the refugee camps of Honduras, where she received essential support from Caritas; and then in the Yalpemech area of Guatemala, to which the refugees returned voluntarily in 1991. At their request, Sister Joannes joined the refugees' repatriation. She has lived and worked among them ever since, supporting and promoting their efforts to build communities and recover from the upheaval and trauma of displacement. Sister Joannes, working with Guatemalan sisters of her congregation, is an important symbol of the role that civil society plays in responding to conflicts, natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. All over the world, representatives of civil society are participating in relief operations, in community development, in the protection of human rights, in the search for peaceful solutions to problems and most of all in helping people learn to help themselves. They are great assets for the international community and vital partners of the United Nations. We must always remember that humanitarian personnel and community workers often carry out their activities in perilous circumstances. In recent years, we have seen a disturbing trend in which they themselves become targets, subjected to murder, threats, gratuitous violence and kidnappings for political and economic reasons. The international community must do more to ensure their safety. Without their commitment and their talents, we would have little hope of accomplishing our goals. The United Nations, for its part, is working actively to improve its relationship with civil society organizations, of all types and at all levels. Strong links and active dialogue will benefit us all. Sister Joannes is an example of civil society -- and humanitarianism -- at its very best. In that spirit, I would like to congratulate her and thank her for the splendid work which earned her the 1997 Nansen Medal.
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