Tribute to Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun (1931 – 2018)

Today would have been Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun’s 88th birthday. He was a member of the Earth Charter Commission, a great diplomat and friend. I want to take this occasion to celebrate his life and express gratitude for his remarkable contribution to processes of social transformation. On behalf of all those involved in the Earth Charter Initiative, who had the occasion to meet Amb. Sahnoun, I offer special appreciation for his many years of public service and support to the Earth Charter Initiative. Amb. Sahnoun dedicated many years of his life to significant, and historical, processes of change in the field of peace, environment and sustainable development.

I met Amb. Sahnoun in early 1992; as a special advisor to the Secretary General of the Earth Summit, he came to the UNCED Secretariat in Conches, Geneva a few times to attend meetings around that time. Amb. Sahnoun was a member of the Brundtland Commission; as such, he was part of the group that developed, between 1985 and 1987, the report “Our Common Future,” a landmark to the Sustainable Development movement. In 1992, he was the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Somalia and worked hard to bring the crisis of famine of that time to the attention of global media. He once told me, “When I first went to Somalia and understood the seriousness of the famine crisis, the urgency to respond, the limited capacity to address the problem and the lack of support from the international community; I thought we should start by raising worldwide awareness of this crisis through mass media and make a call for worldwide support.”

Strong with Likhotal, Gorbachev, Ruud Lubbers and Sahnoun at The Peace Palace, The Hague Netherlands May 1995In 1995, he became the first executive director of the Earth Charter Initiative, a position he fulfilled for about a year or two. Following that, he continued to be closely involved and contributed to the Earth Charter Initiative for many years, as a member of the Earth Charter Commission, the Steering Committee, and the Earth Charter International Council.  I understand he, together with Dr. Parvez Hassan, played an imported role in making a bridge between the Earth Charter Initiative and the work of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law during the first half of the ’90s.

Over the years, in addition to our many interactions around the Earth Charter, I had the privilege to learn from him and dialogue about the many other interesting and unique projects in which he was involved. One that particularly called my attention was the discussions around the responsibility of nations and the international community to protect people around the world from crimes such as genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crime. A relatively new principle in international relations that evolved over the past two decades and that he helped to craft: the importance of humanitarian intervention under the concept “Responsibility to Protect.” Amb. Sahnoun was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, a body that developed the concept of the Responsibility to Protect.

Amb. Sahnoun was Special Representative for the UN Secretary General to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, founder of the Caux Forum for Human Security and closely involved with the University for Peace where he served as a member of its Council and head of the Geneva office.

He was a humble, quiet, kind and sharp human being, who found his purpose in life in public service and in contributing to processes of conflict resolution, peace building, environment and sustainability. Amb. Sahnoun passed away on 20 September 2018, but left strong footprints on his way.

memoire blesseeHe wrote an autobiographic novel called Hurt Memories (“Memoir Blessé”) sharing his experiences and views on the Algeria conflict, which helped to open my eyes not only about the conflict in Algeria, but also to see the underlying causes that generate many conflicts and the fact that often in the middle of horror there is a good hand, a good heart and soul that emerges to help someone. He also wrote: Somalia: the Missed opportunities.

Click here to see the article he wrote in 2005 on ”Degradation of Environment as a Cause for Environment Conflict” in the Earth Charter in Action Book.

In appreciation and gratitude to Ambassador Sahnoun!

By Mirian Vilela