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Human Rights Prize award ceremony

Award Ceremony for the
United Nations Prize in the field of human rights award

Statement by Michelle Bachelet
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

General Assembly Hall, UN Headquarters, New York, 18 December 2018

Madam President of the General Assembly,
Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Honourable recipients of the UN Prize,
Colleagues, Friends,

It is an enormous pleasure and honour to welcome the recipients of the 2018 United Nations Prize in the field of Human Rights.

I am moved, not only by their great courage and tenacity but also by the impact of their achievements. Defending human rights is not just a noble act in itself but an essential part of how resilient societies solve problems; right wrongs; and advance towards peace, inclusion and sustainable prosperity.

When Asma Jahangir founded Pakistan’s first legal aid centre in 1986, its defence of the rights of women, children, religious minorities and the poor helped strengthen the rule of law as a force for better governance. She inspired generations of human rights defenders, well beyond the borders of her country, and when we lost her, an entire community mourned deeply.

Rebeca Gyumi’s work has helped to change the laws on child marriage in Tanzania – an immeasurable benefit, not only to generations of young women, but also to the economy and society as a whole. Her work on girls’ empowerment and education continues to drive awareness of human rights and the 2030 Agenda’s commitment to leave no one behind.

Joênia Wapichana is the first indigenous lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court of Brazil, and her successful advocacy has protected the rights of the Makuxi, Wapixana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona people to their ancestral land and cultures. She stands for an inclusive approach to development based on human rights and social justice, which can facilitate the peaceful coexistence of peoples in Brazil.

Maryam Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja represents Frontline Defenders, an organization which every year brings rapid and practical support to over 2,000 human rights defenders at risk. This support ranges from protection grants; training and capacity building in physical and digital security; an emergency communications hotline; and constant campaigning. We honour and commend this principled and courageous support you bring to the defence of human rights defenders, who often operate in a climate of growing restrictions and under threat of violence, stigma, legal punishments, and even death.

Distinguished recipients,

You, and the global community of human rights defenders that you belong to, are my inspiration.

The impact of your struggles for greater justice, dignity and equality extends across your communities and countries. It extends also to the UN Human Rights Office, which I am honoured to lead, and to the United Nations as a whole. We are eager to hear your concerns and your advice. We welcome your achievements.

The United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights is one of the oldest and most distinguished awards of its kind. It was established by the General Assembly in 1966, to recognize outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The President and the Secretary-General have mentioned some of the previous recipients.  

The Prize is an opportunity to give public recognition to your struggle, and to send a clear message of support and gratitude to human rights defenders all over the world. It reminds us all of the high stakes and deep value of your work -- which is also our work.

Standing up for the human rights of our fellow human beings builds stronger societies, which are based on justice, instead of fear; dignity, in place of exploitation; respect, in place of humiliation, contempt and discrimination.

I extend my heartfelt congratulations to you, the 2018 recipients of the United Nations Human Rights Prize, for your tremendous work and achievements, which inspire all of us present here today and many more around the world.

Thank you.