Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Acceptance Speech

Acceptance by Dr. G.J. van Heuven Goedhart, High Commissioner, UNHCR, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1955*

I feel greatly privileged and honoured to represent here the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace 1954, which is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and I know that I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues in Geneva and in many countries of the world when I express our profound gratitude for the honour which the Nobel Committee of the Storting has done to our office.

It would be possible to elaborate on the life history of Alfred Nobel with a view to finding an answer to a query which may have occurred to many people when they were informed of the decision of the Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Prize for Peace to an international office working on behalf of refugees, and in fact I have the intention of so doing when within a few days I shall have the further privilege of speaking on the problems of my office. But here and now I would already like to say that the life of Alfred Bernhard Nobel had a few characteristics which may point to a very definite link between his ideas and those which are at the root of any constructive refugee programme. And I would like to add that my colleagues and I myself are very much aware of the fact that it is not the first time that the existence of such a link seems to have been recognised by the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting in its deliberations regarding the award to be made. Forty-two years after the death of Nobel in 1896, the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to the Nansen Office for Refugees. That happened eight years after that great Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen, died, but during his lifetime the Nobel Committee had already given proof of its awareness of the “indivisibility of a reasonable notion of peace” by awarding – in 1922 – the Nobel Prize for Peace to Nansen personally. Peace, as has been rightly described in various ways, is much more than just the absence of war. It is rather a state in which no people of any country, in fact no group of people of any kind, lives in fear or in need. Real peace is therefore an ideal to be pursued by mankind, relentlessly and with unflagging perseverance, but at the same time an ideal which mankind can never realise to the full extent. Alfred Nobel certainly was aware of the indivisibility of peace and of its all-embracing character. I would like on this occasion to pay tribute to his memory.

During its five years’ lifetime our office has had to fight on at least two fronts. On the one hand there was the necessity of convincing the Governments that there was still an unsolved refugee problem of considerable magnitude left after the International Refugee Organization closed its doors. On the other hand there was the necessity of persuading the Governments to make contributions to the United Nations Refugee Fund, which is the financial basis of the four years programme for permanent solutions for refugee problems and for emergency aid to needy refugees. Given the fact that today there are, mainly in Europe, but also in the Near and Far East still hundreds of thousands of refugees who so far have not been able to find a solution to their difficulties there can be no doubt about the necessity of a programme such as the one we are in the process of carrying out. But whereas we may say that the first battle – to get recognition of the fact that the problem still existed and that something had to be done about it – has been won, the second one – to obtain the necessary contributions for the carrying out of our four years-programme – is still undecided. So far the response of Governments to our appeals for funds has been disappointing. It is therefore that we are deeply grateful for the encouragement given to our Office through the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace, encouragement which, we hope, will also affect the Governments themselves. At this stage I refrain from any analysis of the current refugee situation as I am privileged to have an opportunity to do so on Monday next. For the moment I therefore confine myself to this short expression of deep gratitude on behalf of my colleagues and myself for the great honour which through the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace 1954 has been bestowed upon the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

* The prize was reserved in 1954 and distributed in 1955.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1954, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1955


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1954

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