Activists from Kenya, Cambodia are among ‘Alternative Nobel’ prize winners

SOS Mediterranee refugee rescue group as well as environment and human rights defenders win the Right Livelihood Award.

A volunteer from SOS Mediterranee makes a high five to migrant as they approach Italian coasts, on Sept. 4, 2022 off Taranto, southern Italy.
SOS Mediterranee, a refugee rescue group, is one of the winners of the 2023 Right Livelihood Award. Other recipients are Phyllis Omido from Kenya and Mother Nature Cambodia [File: Jeremias Gonzalez/AP]

Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel”, has been awarded to environment activists from Kenya and Cambodia, a human right defender from Ghana and a humanitarian group that rescues refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.

The 2023 laureates “stand up to save lives, preserve nature and safeguard the dignity and livelihoods of communities around the world”, the awards foundation said on Thursday, adding that they “fight for people’s right to health, safety, a clean environment and democracy”.

This year’s prizes went to Phyllis Omido from Kenya and the groups Mother Nature Cambodia and SOS Mediterranee.

They will share a cash prize, but for security reasons, its size cannot be disclosed, the awards foundation said.

The 2023 honorary award was given to Eunice Brookman-Amissah from Ghana.

“They care for their land and each human life connected to it: be it Indigenous communities or people risking their lives to get to safety,” Ole von Uexkull, the head of the Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Foundation, said in a statement.

The Cambodian advocacy group was cited for its “fearless and engaging activism to preserve Cambodia’s natural environment in the context of a highly restricted democratic space” while the non-profit charity that operates in international waters north of Libya was credited with carrying out “life-saving humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea”.

Kenyan grassroots environmental activist Omido received the award “for her groundbreaking struggle to secure land and environmental rights for local communities while advancing the field of environmental law”, it said.

The foundation said Brookman-Amissah was honoured “for pioneering discussions on women’s reproductive rights in Africa, paving the way for liberalised abortion laws and improved safe abortion access”.

This year, there were 170 nominees from 68 countries, the foundation said. It said the laureates will be recognised at an awards presentation in Stockholm on November 29.

Previous awards

Created in 1980, the annual Right Livelihood Award honours efforts that the prize founder, Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, felt were being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.

To date, 190 laureates from 74 countries have received the award. Ole von Uexkull is a nephew of the prize founder.

Previous winners include Ukrainian human rights defender Oleksandra Matviichuk, Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Matviichuk and Mukwege received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 and 2018, respectively.

Source: AP