By Marian Lebor
June 19, 2011
Yelena Bonner, the outstanding human rights activist and former Soviet Union dissident, died 18 June 2011, one week before the fifth anniversary of the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.
Here is part of Yelena Bonner's memorable speech to the Oslo Freedom Forum, delivered just over two years ago when she was 86.
"And another question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It’s a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn’t the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit trouble you in the same way as the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?
You fought for and won the opportunity for the International Committee of the Red Cross, journalists, and lawyers to visit Guantanamo. You know prison conditions, the prisoners’ everyday routine, their food. You have met with prisoners subjected to torture. The result of your efforts has been a ban on torture and a law to close this prison. President Obama signed it in the first days of his coming to the White House. And although he, like President Bush before him, does not know what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners, there is hope that the new Administration will come up with something.
But during the two years Shalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about Shalit’s rights. The fact that representatives of the Quartet conduct negotiations with the people who are holding Shalit in an unknown location, in unknown conditions, vividly demonstrates their scorn of international rights documents and their total legal nihilism. Do human rights activists also fail to recall the fundamental international rights documents?
And yet I still think (and some will find this naïve) that the first tiny, but real step toward peace must become the release of Shalit. Release — not exchange for 1000 or 1,500 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.
Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Shalit is an Israeli soldier, Shalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism."