Rt. Hon. David Miliband SM ’90 receives the 2021 Robert A. Muh Alumni Award

His award lecture proposes an "accountability agenda" to restore respect for human rights, democratic norms, and the rights of civilians in combat zones.

Rt. Hon. David W. Miliband, SM'90; photo courtesy of the International Rescue Committee

David Miliband's Muh Alumni Award Lecture | 28 April 2021

Watch the recorded webinar event: introduction, lecture, Q&A

Read the text of the lecture

Full story at MIT News


The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (MIT-SHASS) is delighted to announce that the Rt. Hon. David W. Miliband SM ’90, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has been recognized with the 2021 Robert A. Muh Alumni Award. The biennial award recognizes the tremendous achievements of MIT degree holders who are leaders in one of the Institute’s humanities, arts, and social science fields. The prize was founded by Robert Muh ’59 and his wife Berit in 2000, on the occasion of the School’s fiftieth anniversary.

This year’s award recognizes Miliband’s long and distinguished political career in the United Kingdom and his leadership in addressing the global refugee crisis. Miliband earned an S.M. in Political Science at MIT in 1990 as a Kennedy Scholar following his studies in philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford. He was also a 2010 Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies. 

"One of the ablest, most creative public servants of our time”

“First through his many roles in the British government and now as the leader of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband’s life of dedicated service epitomizes the analytical and humanitarian perspectives fostered in MIT’s rigorous social science fields,” says Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. “We are proud to count him among our distinguished alumni, and this honor pays tribute to all that he has accomplished to-date in his impressive career.”

From 2007 to 2010, Miliband served as the youngest Foreign Secretary in three decades, driving advancements in human rights and representing the United Kingdom throughout the world. His accomplishments have earned him the reputation as "one of the ablest, most creative public servants of our time” as former President Clinton said. In 2016 Miliband was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine, and in 2018 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 2013, Miliband was named President & CEO of the International Rescue Committee, where he oversees the organization’s relief and development operations in over 40 countries. The IRC was founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein in 1933 after his own escape to the United States, saying, “I am almost ashamed to be living in such peace while the rest struggle and suffer.” The IRC responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and regain control of their future in more than 40 countries around the world and 20 cities across the United States.

Miliband is also the author of Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time (Simon & Schuster, TED Books, 2017). As the son of refugees, Miliband brings a personal commitment to the IRC's work and to the premise of his book: that we can rescue the dignity and hopes of refugees and displaced people, and that in the process we will rescue our own values. Refugee Research Online writes that the book reflects the best of Einstein’s founding principles in first imagining the IRC.

About the lecture | Delivered on Wednesday, April 28

Miliband delivered the Muh Award Lecture on Wednesday, April 28 at noon EDT via MIT webcast. The talk, entitled “The Age of Impunity: How Countervailing Powers Can Rebuild Accountability,” encompassed a new framework for exploring the shift in geopolitics focused on impunity, a lack of consequences for egregious violations of law and norm, and the erosion of accountability.

He offered a sobering warning about human rights and democracy — and outlined how we might confront the emerging “age of impunity,” in which authoritarian governments and even democracies are increasingly flouting the rule of law.

“The next decade promises to be a race or a fight between accountability and impunity, within our own countries and internationally,” Miliband said, noting that lawlessness on the part of and within countries “applies in politics, in economics, even in respect of the environment.” About 68 percent of the world’s population is now living under autocratic rule, representing a 20 percentage point increase over the last decade, he said. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit index, about 70 percent of the world’s countries, including many democracies, saw a reduction in political freedom last year.

This does not just mean fewer rights for citizens at home during peacetime, Miliband emphasized, but fewer rights for refugees, and for civilians caught in the middle of wars.

And yet, Miliband contended while giving MIT’s Muh Alumni Award Lecture, “The coming age of impunity is only inevitable if we let it be so.” Instead, he suggested, by deploying “countervailing power” from government, civil society, and the private sector, supporters of rights can begin to curb the ominous trend toward authoritarianism.This concept of countervailing powers provides the basis for an "accountability agenda" that has the potential to restore and promote respect for human rights, democratic norms, and the rights of civilians in combat zones.


Suggested links

David Miliband

Watch: Video: “David Miliband – The Age of Impunity”

Read: The text of the lecture

About the Muh Alumni Award

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Book: Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time

MIT Department of Political Science

Prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Emily Hiestand, Director
Alison Lanier, Senior Communications Associate