August 1999

Background – Who and why ?

The right to life is at the epicenter of all rights known to mankind. If this basic right is not guaranteed, then all other human rights are completely worthless.

If there is one, single thing that we have and have always had in common with our fellow man, it has to be our natural and instinctive reaction to defend our own life and that of our loved ones. This is our number one priority and we will do it by whatever means necessary.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment and admit to endorsing the sentiments of the person who wrote: “I would surely go to any ends and do anything to prevent myself or one of my loved ones from dying an untimely and premature death. I would surely do my utmost to avert the course of this fate and would also expect others to do everything in their power to help me.”

Countless people are dying prematurely today because they are deprived of some unbelievably basic essential: a helping hand at a crucial moment, no access to antibiotics, not enough food, no elementary health-care, no petrol to get to the medical centre, no refuge from those wanting to harm you, no protection from a corrupt police, and on and on- all such basic things if taken individually, but even so, potentially life-threatening. The cheaper the cause of death in market terms, the more intolerable that it should have been allowed to happen in the first place. If you add to this cruelty, cynicism, greed for money, and stupidity, there are so many factors that come into play and result in innocent people dying, so many things that we can and should fight against –there are plenty of peaceful ways to do this, we must, at least, try to do something! We must take action and encourage others to do the same. We must do everything in our power to prevent people from perishing prematurely, accidentally or otherwise.

This organization is of-course, far from being the first of its kind- far from it! Nearly all of the so-called humanitarian organizations in the North as in the South (where they are multiplying at an alarming rate), are by definition aspiring to save or even claiming to save the human race- that’s self-evident. Many of them undoubtedly do good work; many others are downright irresponsible, whether they realize it or not. Add to these the international agencies and veritable armada of five-star institutions, and you theoretically have what it takes to take care of all the illnesses and woes that plague mankind. Not to mention the international conventions, the regional conventions, the continental conventions, the ad hoc conventions, the various protocols, etc, etc, all of which guarantee basic human rights in every conceivable language, including of-course the right to live. We are drowning under a sea of texts.

We know about this, we’ve come into contact with this, we’ve experienced it. People are dying in large numbers pulled under in the squeaky clean wake of this fleet of aid organizations. We’ve all seen it happen, I’ve seen it happen. Countless people overlooked and left to die because of general indifference. Too poor, too crippled, too illiterate, too bewildered by misfortune, alcohol or deprivation, too young, too old, outside the target area, not fitting the criteria, hidden, hiding, from the wrong race or religion at the wrong time, from the wrong side of the border or valley, unfashionable, unmarketable, not politically viable, not expressive enough, not demanding enough. The remnants in the human waste-paper basket, those at the bottom of society, hidden in the depths of some other, far-off tragedy, those who have been stifled, the ignorant, the living dead, the so-called enemies of progress, the anti-heroes, the underclass from whose salvation no-one can benefit –reduced to flesh left to suffer and die in the most stupid and banal of routines that won’t even make the last line of the last page of a free local paper. In other times they would have been called the damned of the earth. I have actually met these people in the course of my “humanitarian errands”. I have met them enerywhere – the forgotten people who just suffer and eventually burn out in what are often ignominious and illegitimate circumstances, but always in the most absolute injustice. I have been able to stop here and there, I have taken it all in until it’s coming out of my ears, but then have carried on, without doing anything, under the pretext of a certain situation not falling under my mandate, time or budget constraints, various other demands, etc, etc.

Without doing anything. Well, I for one have had enough of not doing anything, of not stopping, of not going the extra mile to try to do something about some threat against an innocent human being who is merely asking for the simple right to live. No more climbing, quite literally, over bodies as if they were an obstacle course, using the excuse of having something more ‘important’ to go and attend to. No more turning my back on some vital situation where just a little time, money, courage, competence and commitment could have changed the course of events, saved a life, made it possible for someone to fulfill whatever potential they may have and live out whatever destiny might have in store for them but not to have been let down by the cowardice of others. Everybody knows that this is the case, we all pride ourselves on how much we know, yet this culling continues both here on our own doorsteps and overseas, a whole sea of sacrificial lambs massacred daily as they go about their every-day routine.

As I have said before, there are admirable groups already in existence who are fighting against this, and they naturally deserve our respect and support depending on the situation- we shouldn’t just automatically discount them. I just think that we can capitalize on our own position in terms of circumstances, constraints and opportunities and bring some new strength into this battle in the most simple way possible- we can fight shoulder to shoulder with our elders, our role models and the pioneers at the forefront of this struggle. The question of ‘market-share’ obviously doesn’t enter into the equation –it is more a question of saying “Let’s do something so that more lives can be saved.” There is unfortunately plenty of scope for this. Whilst we do not need any kind of slogan, it is worth remembering that Montesquieu said that an injustice to an individual was a threat to us all. Surely the greatest injustice of all is that of refusing an individual the right to live? Until it has been proven that human beings are no longer perishing well before their natural time has come, there is still something to be done. No one person has exclusive rights over this.

11 Our field of work

“If you try to do everything, you end up accomplishing nothing.” If Vivere’s charter gives the impression that we are trying to solve everything, we would not be holding true to our modest principles. Having said that, I would like to make 3 points:

a) “misery and the injustice of humanity know no bounds”- how true. That is why Vivere aims to voluntarily restrict its work to one aspect of this enormous problem: that of saving one life that is on the road to destruction. You save a life on the one hand, but that’s only the start of it. Our organization is in no way able to take on all that needs to be done, financially or otherwise. It is up to the others to do this: NGOs, the civilian population, social networks, politicians, community development organizations, etc. However, let’s make the point one more time- all of this is pointless if life is destroyed. (Having said this, Vivere would be able to use its considerable experience to mobilize supporters in any given situation, but we would concentrate our efforts on the causes of the crises.)

b) So then, we aim to draw a tiny bit of a small part of the line that will eventually lead to a minimum of justice for each person. This ‘softly softly’ approach can (should) be able to be carried out anywhere and in any of the situations which we are fighting against where people are dying. That is why this approach is applicable anywhere in the world and in any situation- any potential victim from any country in the world should have the assurance of a basic minimum of safety and so that is why this organization can not be inaccessible and off-limits to anyone in need. If anybody on the other side of the world were to read the brochures produced by the Swiss charities “Agir Ensemble”, “Sentinelles” or “Terre des Hommes” they would be moved, and if any victim of abuse were to read them, they would want to contact them. It doesn’t matter if you say “Yes, I can do something, no, I can’t do anything because….” The most important thing is that the message in these brochures of an ideal of a better justice travels far and wide and can sometimes spark off really interesting initiatives even if the organization that started it all off can’t do anything to help or even is unaware of what has happened. Perhaps it should be said that Vivere would first and foremost like to subscribe to a principle- one that in theory is commonplace and universal, but one that in reality is far too often trampled on.

c) As is the case with all other small organizations, Vivere is restricted in the choices it can make and is not always able to commit to working in partnership with others, or to working on a particular project. As ever, the only things that limit us are finite resources and our ability to use them. We will carry on working on the projects we have and with our partners, as required, even though we accept that this can at times be random, arbitrary and unfair to others. However, wouldn’t this always be so, even if we were to drastically narrow down our field of work ?

Mike Hoffman