[07 March 1925 - 06 June 2017]
François Houtart was involved in people’s tribunals since the war in Vietnam. He was one of the co-founders of World Social Forum. He founded Center for Socio-Religious Research (CSRR) in 1956 and the Tricontinental Centre (CETRI) in 1976. He chaired the CETRI till 2004 and the institution has been committed to study, publications and training in issues of development and North-South relations for more than 4 decades now.
Dublin judges panel, chaired by Francois Houtart
Houtart did his PhD in sociology in 1974 on the sociology of Buddhism in the island of ‘Sri Lanka’, after being introduced to the island through the late Rev Fr Tissa Balasuriya OMI (1924-2013).
Houtart, once dubbed as the ‘Pope of anti-globalisation’, has authored more than 50 books. He was the Chief Editor of the international journal Social Compass from 1960-1999 and has also been a key advisor to Alternatives Sud (Southern alternatives), the three-monthly publication of the CETRI.
His intellectual contribution on Latin America is widely recognised. He has participated in discussions with many of the Latin American leaders including the late Fidel Castro and the late Hugo Chávez who was the former president of Venezuela. But, Fr Houtart is mostly known for his engagements with the grassroots. In his latter part of life, Houtart was heavily involved in the struggles for autonomy of the primal peoples and indigenous communities across Latin America.
“Better than any list of all his work, his articles, his speeches, his lectures and conferences, his trips, his qualifications, rewards and recognitions, François Houtart is best remembered for his personal qualities. Most of all, his stubbornness, his energy and his availability,” said Bernard Duterme who is the director of CETRI, while paying tribute in a news published at Global Research on Wednesday.
“He was a reference, a voice and a heart for hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, more particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, from heads of State to the most humble of landless peasants,” he wrote.
“His availability was endless, his accessibility proverbial. Never disturbed, always ready to welcome, to listen, to speak, to commit himself in some new initiative, in a new fight for more justice,” Duterme wrote.
A tribute to François Houtart has been organised by his friends, professors and researchers of UCL and CETRI in Belgium. It will take place on Monday 12 June from 1:00 pm to 1:30 pm at Salle Urbain Vaes, Building Doyens, Place Rabelais, Louvain-la-Neuve.
TamilNet joins progressive forces of the world in paying tribute to François Houtart.
On the last day before his demise: François Houtart [right] addressing a meeting on the genocide of Eezham Tamils along with exiled Sinhala activist Viraj Mendis at Quito, Ecuador.
Following is the tribute from International Human Rights Association and the Bremen & Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka:
A TRIBUTE TO FRANCOIS HOUTART
It was the Spring 2008.
The Sri Lankan state was preparing the ground for the final bloodbath which became the first genocide in the 21st Century. The desperate Tamil people in the Diaspora were taking to the streets in their hundreds and thousands. But their appeals to the international community fell on deaf ears. Based on the long-standing engagement he had with Sri Lanka since the 70, a group of Tamil and Sinhala activists met Francois Houtart at the Centre Tricontinental (CETRI), in Louvain la Neuve, Belgium. The Centre, which was co-founded by Francois and eminent Egyptian French Marxist economist Samir Amin in the 70s, has been actively involved in building solidarity between the struggles of the oppressed in the Third World.
From the very first meeting, Francois took an enormous effort to find ways and means of stopping the massacres by knocking at the doors of many progressive governments using his decades long unique relationship with the struggles in Latin America. He even went to the extent of making concrete requests to those governments to help evacuate the critically wounded people for treatment. For us, at a time of absolute desperation, Francois was the hope. For Francois, taking an unwavering position to stand with the Tamils at that moment, was a continuation of his lifelong commitment to many struggles of the oppressed people who resisted domination. The intense discussions we had with him in the Camilo Torres Hall at CETRI, where he listened to stories of the Tamil people and watched horrendous video footages coming from the war zone, solidified his commitment to seek every possible way to stop the carnage. Despite all such efforts, the Sri Lankan state backed by the imperialist powers accomplished their Genocidal mission by starving, shelling and bombing over 70,000 Tamils to death in a matter of five months.
But Francois was not prepared to put things into rest. Even though he came under pressure from the pseudo left who were on the payroll of the Sri Lankan state to abandon his position, he never gave in. The worldwide propaganda that criminalised the Tamil struggle and justified the genocidal onslaught could not shroud his political judgement. He never accepted injustices as inevitable and irreversible. Knowing well the criminal complicity of the western powers as well as the unfortunate dilemma of the Latin American governments which prevented them from taking a clear position, Francois took the lead to initiate the first ever independent international investigation into mass atrocities committed against the Tamil people. If not for Francois Houtart, who had journeyed with peoples struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America building a network of progressive forces, the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka – Dublin (2010) and Bremen (2010) – would never have become a reality. The Tribunals became the decisive blow that shattered the conspiracy of silence maintained by the United Nations dominated by the powers who facilitated the Tamil Genocide.
Francois, who stood for the rights of the two rebellious generations of underprivileged Sinhala youth in 1971 and 1989 in Sri Lanka, uncompromisingly upheld the same principle of standing by the oppressed even 40 years after by defending the collective rights of Eelam Tamils. In addition to facilitating screening of the documentary ‘No Fire Zone’ in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Mexico, he was instrumental in organising a series of public meetings in 2016 to mark the genocidal massacres in Mullivaikkal with the help of the Fundación Pueblo Indio del Ecuador, a leading organisation of indigenous people, which became the first ever commemorative events organised by non-Tamils.
Born into an aristocratic family in Belgium as a grandson of one time Belgium Prime Minister County Henry Carton de Wiart (1920 -1921), Francois chose to walk with the wretched of the earth and fully identify himself with cry of the oppressed and cry of the earth. His passion for justice embraced the Tamils as a part of humanity and stood for their rights at a time the whole world turned their back to them.
Dear Francois, in a world where the ideals of justice, equality and care for the earth remain mere rhetoric you leave behind a legacy that inspires us to continue our journey towards the goal of liberation. You never gave up, you never compromised and you never got exhausted even at the age of 92. Just few hours before you took your last breath, you spoke at a meeting exposing the ongoing injustices against the Tamil people and the complicity of international powers. We deeply miss you as a trusted companion, a beloved teacher, a refined scholar, a committed activist and above all, a complete human being full of compassion, wisdom and determination.
You have made us believe that another world is not only possible, but necessary.
Good Night Father. We will await the Day Break.
International Human Rights Association – Bremen & Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka