United Nations Human Rights Prize 2008

The 2008 United Nations Human Rights Prize winners include a doctor working in the Congo treating women and girl victims of sexual violence, a posthumous award to a Nun who defended the rights of the poor, landless and indigenous peoples of Brazil and the immediate past UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is among seven winners of the prestigious United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2008. © OHCHRThe UN General Assembly established the prize forty years ago to recognise “outstanding achievements in the field of human rights.” The awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York on 10 December to mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For 2008 six individuals and one organisation have been awarded the prize.

The winners are Louise Arbour, Benazir Bhutto (posthumous), Ramsey Clark, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Sr. Dorothy Stang (posthumous). The organisation, Human Rights Watch is also a recipient.


Prior to her appointment as High Commissioner for human Rights from 2004 until 2008 Louise Arbour served as the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and was responsible for the first indictment in history of a sitting head of state, the then President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic.

Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani’s former prime minister and leading opposition politician was awarded the prize posthumously. © UN Photo/ M GrantBenazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988 and 1993. Regarded as an ardent advocate for democracy and human rights Ms Bhutto was assassinated following a political rally in Rawalpindi in December 2007.

Ramsey Clark, veteran human rights defender and former Attorney-General of the United States is recognised for his steadfast insistence on respect for human rights and fair judicial process for all, in accordance with international standards.

Dr Carolyn Gomes is the Executive Director and co-founder of Jamaicans for Justice, the premier human rights advocacy group in Jamaica, developing innovative local and international partnerships to advance the cause of human rights.

Dr Denis Mukwege co-founded and operates the General Referral Hospital of Panzi, in Bukavu, South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An average ten to twelve women arrive at the hospital daily for treatment, many of whom require major surgery. Dr Mukwege describes the sexual violence in the region as a weapon of war, which has destroyed entire communities.

Sister Dorothy Stang of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur was murdered in 2005 in Anapu, Brazil. Despite numerous death threats Sister Dorothy had defended the rights of the poor, landless and indigenous populations of the Anapu region of Brazil for nearly forty years.

For 30 years, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented human rights violations across the globe and played a major role in campaigns for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and more recently the Coalition to ban cluster munitions.

Commenting on this year’s winners, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay said, “The Human Rights Prize sends a clear message to those who stand for human rights and freedoms that the international community is grateful for and supports their tireless efforts to promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The winners are selected by a committee made up of the President of the General Assembly, the President of the Economic and Social Council, the President of the Human Rights Council, the Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, and the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council.