UN names Human Rights Prize winners for 2018

Asma Jahangir, Rebeca Gyumi, Joenia Wapichana and Front Line Defenders honoured by the UN for promoting human rights.

Jahangir co-founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [File: Apichart Weerawong/AP]

The United Nations has hailed the “inspiring” work of four individuals and organisations as it announced the winners of its Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2018.

The honour was given on Friday to Asma Jahangir, the late Pakistani lawyer and leading human rights defender, along with Tanzanian activist Rebeca Gyumi, Brazil’s first indigenous lawyer Joenia Wapichana and Irish human rights groups Front Line Defenders.

“Today I announced the 2018 winners of the UN Human Rights Prize,” Maria Fernanda Espinosa, UN General Assembly president, wrote on Twitter.

“I am proud to recognise the contributions of individuals and organisations that promote and protect human rights. Your work is an inspiration to us all,” she said.

Jahangir is the fourth Pakistani woman to receive the prestigious award, which recognises individuals or organisations for outstanding achievements in the field of human rights and is given every five years.

Past winners include Mauritania’s Biram Dah Abeid, Finland’s Liisa Kauppinen, Khadija Ryadi of Morocco, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico. 

This year’s award ceremony will be held at the UN headquarters in New York on Human Rights Day, which is marked globally on December 10. 

Find out more about this year’s winners below.

Asma Jahangir

Known for her persistence on advocating for issues such as women’s rights and discrimination against minorities, Jahangir was the first woman to serve as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.

Critical of Pakistan’s military, intelligence and armed groups, she braved death threats, imprisonment and beatings as she worked tirelessly to protect human rights.

Jahangir helped bonded labourers get legislation passed through parliament and worked on blasphemy cases.

People worldwide reacted to the news of her death in February, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying the world had lost a “human rights giant”.

Thousands of people attended her funeral in the eastern city of Lahore.

Rebeca Gyumi

Gyumi is the founder of the Msichana Initiative in Tanzania, a local NGO that advocates for girls’ right to education.

A lawyer by profession, Gyumi won a landmark case in 2016 on child marriages after petitioning against the 1971 Tanzania Marriage Act which allowed girls as young as 14 to get married.

For her work on girls’ rights, the 31-year-old won the UNICEF Global Goals Award in 2016 and was named Woman of the Year by New African Women magazine.

Joenia Wapichana

Wapichana is a 43-year-old indigenous lawyer from northern Brazil [PhotoCourtesy of Joenia Wapichana campaign]
Wapichana is a 43-year-old indigenous lawyer from northern Brazil [PhotoCourtesy of Joenia Wapichana campaign]

In Brazil’s elections earlier this month, Wapichana became the first indigenous woman to be elected to the Congress.

Ten years ago, she was the first indigenous lawyer to speak in front of the Supreme Federal Court and more than a decade before that she became the first indigenous person to graduate from law school in the country.

“I’m very happy to be answering the call of all the indigenous people who yearn to have their rights represented in Congress,” she told Al Jazeera just after winning her seat.

“People had the hope to believe we can create positive change, that we can have a voice there to represent our rights.”

Front Line Defenders

Ireland-based charity Front Line Defenders provides support to human rights defenders whose lives and health are at risk through advocacy, grants, security and training.

The group was founded in Ireland’s capital, Dublin, in 2001.

“We are hugely honoured to receive this prize,” Executive Director Andrew Anderson said.

“Front Line Defenders dedicates this prize to human rights defenders at risk around the world, who struggle every day to advance and defend the rights for their communities,” the group said in a statement. 

Source: Al Jazeera