Corfu 1895 – Geneva 1981
Albert Cohen, a lawyer, international civil servant and writer, very early on understood the importance of the spoken and written word, particularly in working for the observance of rights relating to human beings. When he was five he left the island of Corfu where he was born, and together with his parents emigrated to France, to Marseille where at the age of ten he experienced the rejection and humiliation suffered by a foreigner. These wounds fed into the literary and diplomatic work which he performed in London first, and then in Geneva. Albert Cohen “the diplomat” is far less familiar to the general public. However, his contribution in this sphere was just as great as what he achieved as the author of Book of My Mother and Belle du Seigneur (Her Lover), for which he was awarded received the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française in 1968). Based in London and attached to the diplomatic division of the International Labor Organization in Geneva, he was legal advisor to the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees. In this capacity, he was given the remit to draw up the International Accord of October 15, 1946 pertaining to the protection of refugees, and notably the issuing of a travel document for refugees. This text was subsumed in the International Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted in Geneva on July 28, 1951, and is still in force today. The “quasi–luxurious” looking passport, which inspires the respect due to its bearer, was a real reason for Cohen to be proud of his achievement. This commitment to the fair implementation of the law for all, including foreigners who were the most vulnerable category, had already been expressed in such autobiographical works as: “Oh you, fellow human beings” (1972) and “Notebooks 78” (1979).