Alumnus and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei delivers keynote at Hauser 20th anniversary

Mohamed ElBaradei LLM ’71, JSD ’74, LLD ’04, known worldwide as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the last vice president of Egypt, delivered a sweeping keynote address that decried the "blinkered mindset" hampering international affairs. He was in New York to celebrate the 20th anniversary of NYU Law’s Hauser Global Law School Program on October 18-19.

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Introduced by Dean Emeritus Richard Revesz as “one of the leading international civil servants of the 20th century,” ElBaradei, who taught at the Law School from 1981 to 1987, called Hauser a “unique and visionary program” that recognized early on “the importance of the exchange of ideas and perspectives among lawyers everywhere for building a just and peaceful world.”

ElBaradei, who had struggled in vain to convince the George W. Bush administration of the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq during the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, reflected in his speech on the current complexities of global relations.

“At this moment in history, our reality is quite paradoxical,” he said. “Amazing creativity and ingenuity have enabled us to make a huge leap forward in the way we understand our world and our human condition. But at the same time there is a striking inability to translate these achievements into a new mindset—a mindset that would help us to remodel our world order and understand the complexity of the relationship between its national and international dimensions.”

Rita Hauser and Mohamed ElBaradei

A world that has witnessed the first artificial organ transplant, the discovery of the Higgs boson, and the rise of social media in the past decade also allows 2.8 billion people to survive on less than two dollars a day and 900 million people to go to bed hungry every night, ElBaradei said. He argued that wealthier countries’ response to demands for change has been inadequate: “Repression and gross violations of human rights remain the hallmark of a third of the world’s nations, and senseless, dehumanizing, and destructive conflicts dominate the human timeline…. These are not simply numbers. These conditions inevitably lead to a deep sense of injustice, anger, and loss of hope. They create the most fertile ground for conflicts, violence, and extremism.”

International organizations such as the United Nations have failed to avert conflict and violence, ElBaradei asserted, and major global players, including the US, have chosen to remain outside the International Criminal Court’s statute. “We developed human rights law to promote human dignity, and humanitarian law so when we fight we kill each other more humanely,” he said. “But both kinds of law are now cited for violation more than for compliance.”

ElBaradei did not mince words in calling the world to account. “The global response remains shamefully erratic and subjective, predominantly depending on geopolitical interests,” he said. “In Congo, Rwanda, Darfur, and recently Syria, despite colossal death tolls, the international community did little more than wring its hands or perform a second-rate kabuki dance.” He contrasted these examples with the strong interest in reacting swiftly to events in Afghanistan and Libya.

His prescription for the international community included understanding the consequences of ignoring suffering and launching wars, appreciating the connection between inequality and insecurity, prioritizing nuclear disarmament, reforming dysfunctional international organizations, and shifting paradigms from international rivalry to cooperation.

“The problem is by no means lack of funds, or, I hope, a lack of compassion or solidarity,” said ElBaradei. “It is primarily a blinkered mindset unable to see the big picture, or even where its long-term interests lie. At the end of the day, as it is today, it really depends who is dying and where. Is it not telling that we always know exactly how many Westerners have lost their lives in any of these conflicts, but no one bothers to keep more than the vaguest tally of local victims? Are we shocked, then, when we see growing anger, distrust, and extremism?”

Watch the video of Mohamed ElBaradei's full keynote (51 min):

Posted October 23, 2014