While we were busy electioneering in Australia, Elie Wiesel passed away in New York at the age of 87. A Romanian Jew, he was the only one of his immediate family to survive Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the unspeakable horror he later recounted in his aptly-named Holocaust memoir â€œNightâ€, one of 57 books he went on to writs in his long and distinguished post-war career as a novelist, academic and a tireless human right campaigner. In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Iâ€™ve had the honour of meeting Wiesel, briefly, in late October 2006. He and Vaclav Havel were then launching a report â€œFailure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Koreaâ€ in New York. The report argued in favour of the â€œresponsibility to protectâ€ doctrine, namely that the international community, through the United Nations, should intervene to protect people against their governments in cases of gross and ongoing human rights abuses â€“ such as the neo-Stalinist oppression in North Korea starving millions of own citizens to death. The report was launched inside the UN complex in Manhattan, but the organisation itself, full as it is of states which rightly or wrongly donâ€™t want their sovereignty interfered with by outsiders, has proven unresponsive to â€œresponsibility to protectâ€.
In his Nobel acceptance speech, Wiesel said, â€œI swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.â€ He has spent every waking moment of his long and distinguished life and career faithful to this personal creed, fighting against indifference and forgetting from the Jewish and Armenian Holocausts to more recent tragedies in Bosnia, Darfur and Sri Lanka, as well as campaigning to prevent the next Jewish genocide so many Palestinians and Iranians seem to be so keen to perpetrate.
We have lost a great man and a great witness.