The United Nations today honoured five individuals for their courage and determination in promoting and protecting human rights, with a sixth award honouring all Human Rights Defenders throughout the world. The individuals are: Sunila Abeyesekera of Sri Lanka; Angelina Acheng Atyam of Uganda; Jimmy Carter of the United States; Jose Gregori of Brazil; and Anna Sabatova of the Czech Republic.
The presentation of the six United Nations Human Rights Prizes at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 10 December is one in a series of gala events marking the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Previous awardees include Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, U Thant, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Prizes were awarded by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shortly after the 10 a.m. opening of the day-long commemoration of the anniversary by the General Assembly. The awardees will meet the media at an 11:15 a.m. press conference in Room S-226 of the United Nations Secretariat building.
Later, the 1998 prize winners will attend the opening of a new Human Rights exhibit, shortly after 1 p.m. in the Public Lobby of the General Assembly building. They will also be present at the launch of a new Internet website page, displaying more than 250 different language versions of the Universal Declaration, at 6:30 p.m. in the Public Lobby of the General Assembly building. The event will be led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and hosted by the Government of San Marino.
Around the world, voices have been raised to condemn violations of human rights, defend people's rights and lead the fight against injustice. These are the voices of people who found inspiration in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. This year's awardees, who have made outstanding contributions to the struggle for human rights, are:
-- Sunila Abeyesekera of Sri Lanka, the Executive Director of INFORM, one of the key human rights organizations in her country. An activist for almost 30 years, her work focuses mainly on women's rights, armed conflicts and conflict resolution. She has played a key role in lobbying and advocacy work within the United Nations human rights system and has established several organizations working on human rights and democratic issues in Sri Lanka.
-- Angelina Acheng Atyam of Uganda, a nurse-midwife and mother of six, is a founding member and vice-chair of the Concerned Parents Association, a group of Ugandan parents who came together to demand action when their daughters, 139 girls from the St. Mary's School, were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army in October 1996. Ms. Atyam has been a powerful spokesperson, giving voice to the concerns of thousands of families whose children have been stolen. She has worked tirelessly to secure the release of children in rebel captivity. She has also worked to bring national and international attention to the plight of the captive children, by travelling to Europe and the United States. In November 1997, Ms. Atyam was recognized and honoured by Human Rights Watch.
-- Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States of America, has committed himself to the cause and international defence of human rights. Mr. Carter has been involved in activities ranging from defending religious minorities in Eastern Europe to working to eradicate river blindness. He did outstanding work in bringing a peaceful solution to the civil war in Liberia. The Carter Center, in Atlanta, Georgia (USA), played a significant role in brokering peace talks between the warring parties.
-- Jose Gregori of Brazil has been involved in human rights since the 1950s. He was a student at Sao Paulo University when the military regime took power in Brazil. During that period, he cooperated closely with groups in trying to re-establish democracy. He now heads the recently created National Secretariat for Human Rights. He has been active in strengthening national and regional cooperation in defence and promotion of human rights.
-- Anna Sabatova of the Czech Republic has been involved in human rights activities for the past 30 years. She was sentenced to three years in prison for distributing leaflets that reminded Czechoslovakian citizens that to vote in parliamentary elections is not a duty, but a right. She is one of the founding members of "Charter 77", a centre of civic resistance.
-- Human Rights Defenders. This Prize has been given in honour of all Human Rights Defenders. The commitment among ordinary people to human rights is represented by thousands of courageous individuals worldwide who struggle
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to promote and protect the fundamental rights of others in their communities or in other parts of the world. To honour the Human Rights Defenders at this time celebrates their courage and dedication towards the realization of the rights of the Universal Declaration.
The United Nations Human Rights Prizes are awarded every five years to recipients who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other relevant United Nations instruments. The Prize was established in 1966 by General Assembly resolution 2217/XXI, and the first awardees were honoured in 1968. Before the 1998 awards, 28 individuals and seven organizations had received the Human Rights Prize.
Selection is determined by a special United Nations committee composed of the President of the General Assembly, the President of the Economic and Social Council, the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, the Chairman of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Chairman of the Sub- Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. Nominations may be made to the committee by United Nations Member States and specialized agencies and by non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the United Nations. This year, the special committee considered approximately 400 nominations before deciding on the six winners.
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NOTE:For more information on the Human Rights Prize winners, please call the Development and Human Rights Section of the United Nations Department of Public Information at (212) 963-3771. For United Nations media accreditation, call (212) 963-7164 and for television broadcast feed, call (212) 963-7650.