Stockholm, Berlin, Zurich and Geneva – this year, a busy itinerary was in store for the latest laureates of the Right Livelihood Awards, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”. Not all of them could take part, however − our Chinese laureate Guo Jianmei was missing, as was Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who, at the time of the awards ceremony, was still on her way across the high seas to the climate summit in Madrid. As a result, more time was available at the European destinations for those who could attend: Davi Kopenawa from Brazil and Aminatou Haidar from Western Sahara. Both had depressing stories to tell. And yet: the fact that these two people aren’t afraid to fight for their rights represents a shimmer of much-needed hope in an unjust world.
The indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami people and the Hutukara Yanomami Association from Brazil jointly received the award “for their courageous determination to protect the forests and biodiversity of the Amazon, and the lands and culture of its indigenous peoples”. He impressively spoke about the recent turning of the political tide in Brazil due to Jair Bolsonaro becoming president there. He allowed the gold diggers back into indigenous territories, Kopenawa said, and added that violence against the indigenous population had increased. The mercury released by illegal gold mines has been a major threat to both the environment and human health for years. Kopenawa isn’t ready to accept that. His commitment is to the preservation of the land, health, language and culture of the Yanomami people.
The human rights activist Aminatou Haidar from Western Sahara received the Right Livelihood Award “for her steadfast non-violent action, despite imprisonment and torture, in pursuit of justice and self-determination for the people of Western Sahara”. She has not let herself be discouraged by the prospect of torture or jail. In Geneva, she spoke to Vice-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore about the lack of a referendum that could give her people independence. In 1975, Spain, as colonial power, left the country with a mandate from the UN to hold a referendum on self-determination for the region. Instead, Morocco annexed Western Sahara. Haidar has been campaigning peacefully for the independence of her homeland and her people for over 30 years, drawing attention to torture and violence against her people. However, Morocco is still blocking a referendum, and with elections scheduled for December, the human rights activist is worried that riots and violence could break out as a result of her people growing increasingly impatient.
The Chinese lawyer and women’s rights activist Guo Jianmei received the Right Livelihood Award “for her pioneering and persistent work in securing women’s rights in China”. The fact that she wasn’t able to attend the awards ceremony tells us a lot about the country. Hopefully, the award will help her commitment to her fellow female compatriots. As a lawyer, Guo has enabled thousands of women to access the legal system and the courts. She has also repeatedly pointed to the misogyny in the legal system. She helps women go through the legal process who have suffered from sexual abuse, unfair pay, misogynist work contracts or forced early retirement. She has coined this memorable phrase: “Let the sunshine of the law lighten every corner of our lives.”
The Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg received the award “for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts”. Thunberg has become world-famous with her school strikes within a year and is the powerful voice of a young generation that will have to bear the consequences of today’s political failure to stop climate change. Her resolve to not put up with the looming climate disaster has inspired millions of peers to also raise their voices and demand immediate climate action. We hope that at only 16 years old, Thunberg will not break under the weight of her commitment.
The ceremony for the Right Livelihood Awards took place for the 40th time this year. Consequently, the night was also a celebration of the award’s initiator, Jacob von Uexküll. At the time, he called on the Nobel Committee to institute additional awards for special merits such as environmental protection or human rights. When his arguments fell on deaf ears, he sold a valuable stamp collection and established the “Alternative Nobel Prize”. Since then, we have raised the prize money for the winners year after year thanks to the generosity and support of numerous people. It’s a powerful reminder that Jacob wasn’t and isn’t the only person who places importance on a commitment for values, not just for scientific advancements. We attempt to use the awards to create additional publicity for the laureates and to support their projects financially. Our own reward is that we are able to make the acquaintance of wonderful people every year.
(All pictures: RLA)