Professor Houtart was a towering figure in the global movement for social justice who presided over the Dublin session of the Peoples' Tribunal on Sri Lanka held in January 2010. The tribunal was the first independent international investigation into mass atrocities committed against Tamil people during the last phase of the war. He also played an active role in facilitating the second session of the Peoples' Tribunal held in Bremen, Germany in 2013 which found the Sri Lankan state guilty of the crime of genocide against Tamil people.
"A sad loss" said Denis Halliday, the former Assistant Secretary General to the UN and co-chair of the Bremen session of the Peoples' Tribunal on Sri Lanka.
"Francois enjoyed a long life and made a great difference in the lives of millions. I remember working beside him well. A great man", he said.
"His departure has left an irreplaceable void' said Professor Jude Lal Fernando, the Director of Trinity Centre for Post-Conflict Justice at the Trinity College, Dublin, who coordinated the two tribunals.
"It was Che Guevara who first put into our hearts and minds the idea of tri-continental solidarity. It was Francois Houtart who actualised Che's dream by connecting the oppressed peoples from Central America to Indo China and from South Asia to Horn of Africa", he added.
Born in 1925 into an aristocratic family in Belgium as a grandson of one time Belgium Prime Minister County Henry Carton de Wiart (1920 -1921), Houtart was actively involved in anti fascist resistance before being ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels in 1949. His doctoral thesis "Religion and Ideology in Sri Lanka' was presented to the Catholic University of Louvain, where he later worked as professor of sociology until 1990. In 1976, he co-founded the Centre Tricontinental (CETRI) with his lifelong friend and renowned Egyptian marxist economist Samir Amin, and worked as its' director until 2004.
"From ‘third-worldism’ to alter-globalism, from liberation theology to the ecology of creation, François Houtart has been and will always remain an important thinker in favour of the emancipation of peoples" said Bernard Duterm, the current Director of CETRI, in a statement.
"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. 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", he further said.
A pioneer of WSF
Professor Houtart served as the Executive Secretary of the World Forum for Alternatives which set the ground for the establishment of World Social Forum (WSF) in 2001 as an alternative to the Davos Summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which brings together powerful corporate and political elites.
"Francois Houtart's intellectual and political work reflected the best of the Left" said Walden Bello, a leading member of the International Council of the World Social Forum.
"In this age of Trumpism, his memory will continue to provide an example of courageous and determined resistance" he wrote grieving over Houtart's death.
During the last days of his life he remained busy in participating in events to mark the 8th Anniversary of the genocidal massacres of Mullivaikkal. The events were organised by Fundación Pueblo Indio del Ecuador, an eminent socio-cultural, educational organization based among the indigenous peoples and communities of Ecuador.
He addressed several gatherings in Quito along with the guest speaker Viraj Mendis, the chairperson of the International Association for Human Rights - Bremen (IMRV), who was present at the time of his death.
'No injustice is irreversible'
"Francois took an enormous effort to find ways and means of stopping the massacres in 2009 by knocking at the doors of many progressive governments using his decades long unique relationship with the struggles in Latin America," said the IMRV and Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka (IFPSL) in a joint statement mourning over his death.
The IMRV and IFPSL co-organised two sessions of the Peoples' Tribunal on Sri Lanka.
"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 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. If not for Francois Houtart, the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka would never have become a reality.", the statement further added.
At the time of his demise, Houtart worked as professor and researcher at the National Institute of Higher Studies (IAEN) in Quito, Ecuador.
A special memorial event was held on Wednesday (07) at IAEN and a large number of students, social activists, academics, and indigenous people gathered to pay their respect to the legendary scholar and activist.
(By Bashana Abeywardane - jdslanka.org)