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Nelson Mandela International Day, July 18
For freedom, justice and democracy

2015 Laureates

The selection Committee of the 2015 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize has announced their selection of Dr. Helena Ndume of Namibia and H.E. Mr. Jorge Fernando Branco Sampaio of Portugal as the inaugural laureates of the first ever United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize.

The award ceremony was held at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 24 July 2015 as part of annual commemoration of the Nelson Mandela International Day. Archived video of the ceremony is available here. The 2015 laureates are: 

Dr. Helena Ndume

Helena Ndume (Namibia)

Dr. Helena Ndume is an ophthalmologist whose life’s work has been the treatment of blindness and eye-related illnesses, both in Namibia and throughout the developing world. Born in Namibia, she lived in exile in Zambia, Gambia and Angola before studying medicine in Germany at the University of Leipzig, where she received her PhD in 1989.

Upon completing her medical internship at Katutura Hospital and Windhoek Central Hospital in Namibia, she returned to Germany to specialize in ophthalmology at the University of Saarland. She spent part of her field studies in Tamil Nadu, India, where she participated in outreach services in eye care for the first time.

Dr. Ndume’s husband, Dr. Solomon Guramatunhu, also an eye specialist, has been instrumental in introducing her to surgical eye expeditions. While attending a medical conference in the United States in 1995, she visited the booth of the U.S. Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE). There she joined the organization’s roster of over 600 volunteer eye surgeons and soon started to organize ophthalmological treatment camps throughout Namibia. As a result, a number of international groups like SEE, Seeing Without Borders, and individual physicians have travelled to Namibia every year, dedicating their time and employing their expertise in the service of caring for the eyes of the underprivileged. The success of her eye camps in Namibia led Dr. Ndume to expand her project to neighbouring Angola.

To date, Dr. Ndume has helped over 30,000 Namibians receive no-cost eye surgery and intraocular lens implants addressing blindness, cataracts, and myopia. She currently serves as Head of Ophthalmology at the Windhoek Central Hospital and has received numerous international honours, including:

Grand Commander of the Order of Namibia First Class;
- Red Cross International Humanitarian Service Award (2009);
- Rotary International Humanitarian Award in the fight against blindness (2008);
- Namibia National Science Award (2005);
- Humanitarian award in the prevention of blindness in Santa Barbara, California, USA (2001);
- Lions International Award in recognition of sincere and devoted efforts with Lions Operation Brightsight Project (1999).

H.E. Mr. Jorge Fernando Branco Sampaio (Portugal)

Jorge Fernando Branco Sampaio

Born in 1939, Jorge Fernando Branco Sampaio graduated in Law from Lisbon University in 1961. As elected head of the Students’ Union of the Lisbon Law Faculty, he became a leader in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Portugal, which was eventually achieved through the Carnation Revolution (1974) and the establishment of a liberal democratic constitutional regime in 1976.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Sampaio took numerous cases to the courts of the dictatorship, defending political prisoners and exposing the abuses of the police. He defended, on a pro bono basis, several victims of state repression. He also defended human rights as a member of the European Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe from 1979 to 1984.

From 1976 onwards, Mr. Sampaio became a consistent supporter of the consolidation of Portuguese democracy: as a Member of Parliament; as Speaker of the Labour Party; as Deputy Minister for External Cooperation; as Mayor of Lisbon from 1989 to 1995, and, from 1996 to 2006, as President of the Republic.

As President, Mr. Sampaio did much to communicate a democratic and modern image of Portugal and for its international recognition. He is a strong advocate of the European integration project, actively supported its enlargement to all democratic countries in Europe as well as to Turkey, and played an active role in engaging ordinary people, in particular youth,in public debates on European affairs. He oversaw the handover of Macau to China and strongly backed Timor-Leste’s independence. During his two presidential terms, he participated in almost all debates related to challenges currently facing the international community, including HIV-AIDS, drugs, human rights, children’s rights, and other issues.

As the UN Secretary-General’s first Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis from 2006 to 2012, Mr. Sampaio has raised the international visibility of the scale of the disease and its impact on achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. As the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations from 2007 to 2013, appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he set up an important UN forum for dialogue and cooperation against hatred and violence and promoted common action at local, national and regional levels to meet the challenges of cultural diversity across the globe.

Most recently he has been involved in two main fields of action: as a member of the Global Commission on Drugs Policy, he has been advocating for major reforms of drug policy; he has also launched the Global Platform for Syrian Students, a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at providing emergency scholarships to Syrian students that allow them to resume their university studies.

Mr. Sampaio holds several Portuguese and foreign honours, including:

- Doctor Honoris Causa, by the Universities of Aveiro (2008), Coimbra and Lisbon, (2010), Porto and King’s College, London (2014);
- Charles V European Award ‘2004, by the Fundación Academia Europea de Yuste;
- XIV North-South Prize Award (2008);
- VI International Prize Sevilla Nodo Entre Culturas (2011), awarded by Fundación Sevilla.