The following is an edited extract from the 2004
Sydney Peace Prize lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy at the Seymour
Centre, Sydney, Australia, November 3. The full text is available
at the Sydney
Sometimes there's truth in old clichés.
There can be no real peace without justice. And without resistance
there will be
no justice. Today, it is not merely justice itself, but the idea
of justice that is under attack.
The assault on vulnerable, fragile sections
of society is so complete, so cruel and so clever that its sheer
audacity has eroded our definition
of justice. It has forced us to lower our sights, and curtail our
expectations. Even among the well-intentioned, the magnificent
concept of justice is gradually being substituted with the reduced,
far more fragile discourse of "human rights."
This is an alarming shift. The difference is that notions of equality,
of parity, have been pried loose and eased out of the equation.
It's a process of attrition. Almost unconsciously, we begin to
think of justice for the rich and human rights for the poor.
Justice for the corporate world, human rights for its victims.
Justice for Americans, human rights for Afghans and Iraqis. Justice
for the Indian upper castes, human rights for Dalits and Adivasis
(if that). Justice for white Australians, human rights for Aborigines
and immigrants (most times, not even that).
It is becoming more than clear that violating human rights is
an inherent and necessary part of the process of implementing a
coercive and unjust political and economic structure on the world.
Increasingly, human rights violations are being portrayed as the
unfortunate, almost accidental, fallout of an otherwise acceptable
political and economic system. As though they are a small problem
that can be mopped up with a little extra attention from some non-government
This is why in areas of heightened conflict – in Kashmir and in
Iraq for example – human rights professionals are regarded with
a degree of suspicion. Many resistance movements in poor countries
which are fighting huge injustice and questioning the underlying
principles of what constitutes "liberation" and "development" view
human rights non-government organizations as modern-day missionaries
who have come to take the ugly edge off imperialism – to defuse
political anger and to maintain the status quo.
It has been only a few weeks since Australia re-elected John Howard,
who, among other things, led the nation to participate in the illegal
invasion and occupation of Iraq.
That invasion will surely go down in history as one of the most
cowardly wars ever. It was a war in which a band of rich nations,
armed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several
times over, rounded on a poor nation, falsely accused it of having
nuclear weapons, used the United Nations to force it to disarm,
then invaded it, occupied it and are now in the process of selling
I speak of Iraq, not because everybody is talking
about it, but because it is a sign of things to come. Iraq marks
of a new cycle. It offers us an opportunity to watch the corporate-military
cabal that has come to be known as "empire" at work.
In the new Iraq, the gloves are off.
As the battle to control the world's resources intensifies, economic
colonialism through formal military aggression is staging a comeback.
Iraq is the logical culmination of the process of corporate globalization
in which neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism have fused. If we can
find it in ourselves to peep behind the curtain of blood, we would
glimpse the pitiless transactions taking place backstage.
Invaded and occupied Iraq has been made to
pay out $US200 million ($270 million) in "reparations" for
lost profits to corporations such as Halliburton, Shell, Mobil,
Nestle, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried
Chicken and Toys R Us. That's apart from its $US125 billion sovereign
debt forcing it to turn to the IMF, waiting in the wings like the
angel of death, with its structural adjustment program. (Though
in Iraq there don't seem to be many structures left to adjust.)
So what does peace mean in this savage, corporatized, militarized
world? What does peace mean to people in occupied Iraq, Palestine,
Kashmir, Tibet and Chechnya?
Or to the Aboriginal people of Australia? Or the Kurds in Turkey?
Or the Dalits and Adivasis of India? What does peace mean to non-Muslims
in Islamic countries, or to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan?
What does it mean to the millions who are being uprooted from their
lands by dams and development projects? What does peace mean to
the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources? For
them, peace is war.
We know very well who benefits from war in the age of empire.
But we must also ask ourselves honestly who benefits from peace
in the age of empire? War mongering is criminal. But talking of
peace without talking of justice could easily become advocacy for
a kind of capitulation. And talking of justice without unmasking
the institutions and the systems that perpetrate injustice is beyond
It's easy to blame the poor for being poor.
It's easy to believe that the world is being caught up in an
escalating spiral of terrorism
and war. That's what allows George Bush to say, "You're either
with us or with the terrorists." But that's a spurious choice.
Terrorism is only the privatization of war. Terrorists are the
free marketeers of war. They believe that the legitimate use of
violence is not the sole prerogative of the state.
It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the unspeakable
brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage of war and
occupation. Both kinds of violence are unacceptable. We cannot
support one and condemn the other.