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10 December 1998

10 December 1998

The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced today, in New York, the recipients of the United Nations Human Rights Awards for 1998 at a ceremony held on the occasion of the celebration, by the General Assembly, of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The 1998 Awardees are : Sunila Abeyesekera, Director of a human rights organization in Sri Lanka; Angelina Acheng Atyam, who has worked to secure the release of children in rebel captivity in Uganda; Jimmy Carter, former President of the United Sates, who contributed to bringing a peaceful solution to the civil war in Liberia; Jose Gregori, Head of the Brazilian National Secretariat for Human Rights; Anna Sabatova of the Czech Republic, one of the founding members of "Charter 77".

A Prize has also been given in honour of all human rights defenders. The commitment to human rights among ordinary people is represented by thousands of courageous individuals who struggle -- in civic organizations, in the courts, in police stations and in prisons, in the media, through trade unions and women's organizations -- to promote and protect the fundamental rights of others.

Around the world, voices have been raised to condemn violations of human rights, defend people's rights and lead the fight against injustice. These are the voices of people who found inspiration in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To honour the courage and determination of those individuals, the General Assembly decided in 1966 to institute the United Nations human rights prize, to be awarded for outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These prizes are awarded every five years to individuals and organizations. They were first given on 10 December 1968, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and then in 1973, 1978, 1988, and 1993. In 1998, they are awarded on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration.

Attached are summaries of the biographies of all Awardees since 1973.


Sunila Abeyesekera of Sri Lanka is the Executive Director of INFORM, one of the key human rights organizations in her country. An activist for almost 30 years, her work focuses mainly on women's rights, armed conflicts and conflict resolution. She has played a key role in lobbying and advocacy work within the UN human rights system and has established several organizations working on human rights and democratic issues in Sri Lanka.

Angelina Acheng Atyam of Uganda, a nurse-midwife and mother of six, is a founding member and vice chair of the Concerned Parents Association, a group of Ugandan parents who came together to demand action when their daughters, 139 girls from the St. Mary's School, were abducted by the Lord's resistance Army in October 1996. Ms. Atyam has been a powerful spokesperson, giving voice to the concerns of thousands of families whose children have been stolen. She has worked tirelessly to secure the release of children in rebel captivity. She has also worked to bring national and international attention to the plight of the captive children, travelling to Europe and the United States. In November 1997, Ms. Atyam was recognized and honoured by Human Rights Watch.

Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States of America, has committed himself to the cause and international defense of human rights. Mr. Carter has been involved in activities ranging from defending religious minorities in Eastern Europe to working to eradicate river blindness. He did outstanding work in bringing a peaceful solution to the civil war in Liberia. The Carter Center, in Atlanta, Georgia (USA), played a significant role in brokering peace talks between the warring parties.

José Gregori of Brazil has been involved in human rights since the 1950s when he was a student at Sao Paulo University and when the military regime took power in Brazil. During that period, he cooperated closely with groups in trying to re-establish democracy. He is the Head of the recently created National Secretariat for Human Rights. He has been active in strengthening national and regional cooperation in defense and promotion of human rights.

Anna Sabatova of the Czech Republic has been involved in human rights activities for the past 30 years. She was sentenced to three years in prison for distributing leaflets that reminded Czechoslovakian citizens that to vote in parliamentary elections is not a duty but a right. She is one of the founding members of "Charter 77", a centre of civic resistance against the Soviet invasion and domination of Czechoslovakia.

A Prize has also been given in honour of all human rights defenders. The commitment to human rights among ordinary people is represented by thousands of courageous individuals who struggle -- in civic organizations, in the courts, in police stations and in prisons, in the media, through trade unions and women's organizations -- to promote and protect the fundamental rights of others.


1968 Awardees

Mr. Manuel Bianchi of Chile, served as Ambassador in many countries. He represented his Government at a number of international conferences concerned with human rights, and served as Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. As a journalist, he was one of the founders of La Nacion of Santiago.

Mr. Rene Cassin of France was a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1946 and one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He served as Chairman of the Commission in 1955-1956. In 1959 he became a member of the European Court of Human Rights, and in 1965 was elected its president. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968.

Mr. Albert Luthuli of South Africa became a member of the African National Congress in 1946 and its president in 1952. A teacher and a leader of the African people for more than forty years, he used non-violent means to fight for human rights and fundamental freedoms in his country. In 1961 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His autobiography Let my people go was published in 1962.

Mrs. Mehranguiz Manoutchehrian of Iran was President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers and a member of the Iranian Jurists' Association, the Iranian Bar Association, the World Peace through Law Centre and the Organization of Volunteers for the Protection of Families. She participated in many national and international conferences and seminars concerned with human rights, published a number of articles and pamphlets on this subject, and translated into Persian and widely distributed many United Nations human rights instruments.

Mr. P. E. Nedbailo of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was the Chair of the Theory of the State and the Law at the T.G. Shevchenko State University of Kiev. He represented the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic at the UN Commission on Human Rights for many years, beginning in 1958, and was elected chairman in 1967. He was head of the Ukrainian delegation to the International Conference on Human Rights in Teheran in 1968 and took part in numerous other international conferences and seminars on human rights. He also published many articles on this subject.

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States of America devoted much of her life to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. She was elected Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at its first session in 1947 and represented the United States of America when the final version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. She continued to represent her country at the Commission and in the General Assembly until 1952. She also took an active part in the preparation of a number of UN instruments designed to achieve the aims of the Declaration.

1973 Awardees

Mr. Taha Hussein of Egypt was handicapped by blindness from the age of seven. Despite this, he became a focal figure of intellectual life in Egypt and in the Arab world. He was Dean of the Faculty of Letters at the University of Egypt, the first Rector of the University of Alexandria, and Minister of Public Education from 1950 to 1952. He was the author of numerous novels and essays, including The Book of Days, considered one of the outstanding works of world literature.

Mr. Wilfred Jenks of the United Kingdom served as Director General of the International Labour Organization. He helped to draft the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944, which became part of the framework of the International Labour Organization. Widely known as an international lawyer, Mr. Jenks wrote a number of books on international law including the Common Law of Mankind, which in 1959 won the Annual Award of the American Society of International Law for Outstanding Merit.

Ms. Maria Lavalle-Urbina of Mexico is a lawyer, professor and prominent public official, who headed a campaign against illiteracy in her own state of Campeche. As head of the Social Defense Department of Mexico's Ministry of the Interior from 1954 to 1964, she initiated fundamental penal reforms. As a Senator from 1964 to 1970, she was instrumental in amending the constitution of Mexico to protect the rights of Mexican mothers. She was the first woman to hold the position of President of the Senate of the Republic of Mexico. She represented her country at the UN Commission on the Status of Women from 1957 to 1968 and was elected its Chairperson in 1963.

Bishop Abel Muzorewa of Southern Rhodesia achieved national and international acclaim for his work as Youth Secretary of the Christian Council of Rhodesia. In 1968 he was elected resident Bishop of Rhodesia by the five conferences that make up the Central African Conference. In 1971 he was elected President of the African National Council of Rhodesia, a grassroots organization of Africans of Zimbabwe culture who were fighting for their right to self-determination. He is the author of a Manifesto for the African National Council, written in 1972. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius served as a member of Parliament, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Internal Security, and Minister of Information and Broadcasting. He was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Advance, a daily newspaper which he founded, and editor of the Indian Culture Review. Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam was responsible for a great number of national legislative acts in the fields of labour, education, health and welfare. He was also active in promoting the status of women and in securing the protection of labour leaders.

U Thant of Burma was his country's permanent representative before he became UN Secretary-General from 1961 to 1971. His writings and speeches during that period reflect his deep commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. His opening statement at the 1968 International Conference on Human Rights, held in Teheran on the occasion of the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration, served as an inspiration to the Conference and to the international community, leading to subsequent action in the field of human rights.

1978 Awardees

Amnesty International was launched at the end of 1961 by Peter Benenson, a British lawyer, shortly after he had read about students in Portugal, who were jailed for raising a toast to "freedom" in a public restaurant. Inspired by their courage and determination, he organized and led a year- long letter-writing campaign which he called "Appeal for Amnesty 1961". Its aim was simple but worthy: to raise awareness of human rights abuses worldwide in the hopes of ending the practice of detaining people for their political or religious beliefs. In 1977, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in 1863 by Henry Dunant, of Geneva. His book about his experience caring for the wounded at the battle of Solferino in 1859 eventually led to the creation of relief societies for wounded soldiers. These societies, known as committees, evolved into Red Cross societies, and later also into Red Crescent societies. During World War II, ICRC expanded its mandate to include the care of civilians as victims of armed conflict. Later it also expanded its mandate to include relief operations for victims of earthquakes and other environmental catastrophes. Vicaria de la Solidaridad was founded in 1976 by the Archdiocese of Santiago, Chile, as a human rights advocacy and defence organization. Its careful logging of human rights abuses and humanitarian work brought persecution upon the Catholic Church and its staff. Lawyers working for the organization did so at considerable risk to their lives and freedom. Throughout, the Vicaria remained a symbol of defiance by continuing to provide legal assistance to political prisoners and welfare assistance to families of victims of human rights abuses in Chile.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who was born in France, started his career in international affairs and world politics. As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 1965 to 1977, he played an instrumental role in the repatriation and resettlement of nearly three million Sudanese refugees.

He once more brought his considerable diplomatic skills to bear during the refugee crisis that erupted following Bangladesh's independence movement. At the global level, he has been actively associated with numerous human rights, cultural, conservation and ecological activities.

Ms. Helen Suzman of South Africa was brought into politics by her desire to improve race relations in her country. First elected to Parliament in 1953, she worked against racial oppression and ethnic nationalism, always raising questions about police activity, prison conditions, people detained and banned, and crime statistics. Through her efforts, she gained the respect of the black community of South Africa and in 1974 she became the sole Parliament member of the Progressive Party, the only party espousing a policy that rejected race discrimination.

Dr. Martin Luther King of the United States of America conducted the boycott of Montgomery's segregated bus system in 1955, which eventually led to the Supreme Court decision outlawing discrimination in public transportation. While he was president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference, his philosophy of non-violent resistance inspired peaceful demonstrations and marches throughout the southern United States. In 1963 he led the great march in Washington, D.C., that culminated with his famous speech "I have a dream". In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Kennedy Peace Prize.

Begum Ra' Ana Liaquat Ali Khan of Pakistan served as a leading Pakistani women's rights activist, economist, diplomat, educator and community leader.

Union Nationale des Femmes de Tunisie is an organization that is devoted to the promotion of women's rights in all fields, with particular emphasis on social freedoms and development.

1988 Awardees

Baba Murlidhar Devidas Amte of India devoted his life to the improvement of the situation of the ill, handicapped and disadvantaged. A lawyer by profession, he participated in the Freedom Movement with Mahatma Gandhi. He was a pioneer in the field of leper rehabilitation in India, establishing centres for the treatment, training and rehabilitation of persons afflicted with leprosy. He also established educational institutions for rural students, blind children and the physically handicapped; as well as initiating projects for tribal populations.

Mr. John Humphrey of Canada was Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights from 1946 to 1966. He was actively involved in the preparation of the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mr. Humphrey was a highly respected author and lecturer, a member of numerous organizations committed to the promotion of human rights and a recognized authority in this field. He was also the founding president of the Canadian Human Rights Foundation.

Mr. Adam Lopatka of Poland is a well-known personality in the United Nations and among international law specialists dealing with humanitarian and human rights problems. From 1978 to 1983, he led the Polish delegation to the UN Commission on Human Rights, where he played a prominent role in the Commission's Working Group on a Draft Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Bishop Leonidas Proano of Ecuador was known as pastor, teacher and priest for the peoples of Riobamba. He dedicated his life to the defense and promotion of the human rights of indigenous populations. In an area where traditional patterns of land ownership had brought untold suffering, he became a true messenger of hope to the Indian population of that area and throughout Ecuador. In acknowledging his life-long commitment to Ecuador's indigenous population, the Vatican named him Bishop of the Indians.

Mr. Nelson Mandela of South Africa is a lawyer by training. In his early years, he defended hundreds of Africans charged under the apartheid laws, and was one of the co-founders of the Youth League of the African National Council of South Africa. During the "Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign", he played a prominent role as thousands were detained for their peaceful opposition to the apartheid laws. From 1952 onwards, Mr. Mandela was subject to repeated banning orders that severely restricted his political activities. He fought for "the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities". In August 1962, he was arrested and later sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released from prison in 1990.

Mrs. Winnie Mandela of South Africa was the first African medical social worker in her country. She served on the National and Provincial Executive of the African National Congress Women's League until it was banned in 1960. She also served on the National Executive of the Federation of South African Women. In 1959, she was arrested and charged under the Terrorism Act. In 1962, she was banned under South African law and remained under banning orders until 1975. She was detained and also placed in solitary confinement.

1993 Awardees

Ms. Erica-Irene Daes of Greece is an internationally acclaimed advocate for the protection of the human rights of the world's indigenous peoples. As Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, she was instrumental in the preparation of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a member of the Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Ms. Daes has actively promoted all human rights, including the rights of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and of the mentally ill.

Mr. James Grant of the United States of America was Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) from 1980 to 1995. He was at the forefront of the promotion of health, welfare and the rights of children throughout the world. As a result of his extraordinary work, particularly his "Child Survival Revolution" -- which focused on growth monitoring, oral rehydration, breast-feeding and immunization -- more than 20 million children were saved. Mr. Grant championed the cause of children dramatically affected in the wars around the world and those whose rights were severely violated.

The International Commission of Jurists was established to uphold the rule of law and the legal protection of human rights throughout the world. It has actively contributed to the elaboration of international and regional standards and has helped to secure their adoption and implementation by governments. The Commission has closely collaborated with the United Nations and actively works at the regional level to strengthen human rights institutions, with particular emphasis on the promotion of the independence of the judiciary. The organization received the first European Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe in 1980, the Wateler Peace Prize in 1984 and the Eramus Prize for Human Rights in 1989.

The Medical Personnel of the Central Hospital of Sarajevo cared for the dying and wounded in their besieged city, working around the clock under unbearable circumstances -- with no electricity, water or gas and without the availability of anaesthetics, drugs and disinfectants. The Central Hospital of Sarajevo itself was a main target of shelling, hit hundreds of times. In their noble mission to save lives, many of its staff members were killed while on duty inside the hospital complex and elsewhere in the city. Ms. Sonia Picado Sotela of Costa Rica is a distinguished jurist, Vice-President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Executive Director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. She has extended the influence and effectiveness of those organizations throughout Latin America. Known for her energetic leadership, she has helped to establish and develop important research and training programmes for human rights monitors across Latin America and has intervened to protect the human rights of many individuals. Through her work for human rights education, she has greatly contributed to an awareness and understanding of human rights ideals in Latin America.

Mr. Ganesh Man Singh of Nepal is the Supreme Leader of the Nepalese Congress. Known for his fearless advocacy of freedom of speech and freedom of association and for his struggle for democracy, he has made outstanding contributions to the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Nepal. He is considered a symbol of democracy not only in Nepal but also internationally, thanks to his tireless advocacy -- in person and through his writings -- at numerous international forums. In 1990, he was awarded the United States Peace Run Prize and the U Thant Peace Award.

The Sudanese Women's Union was established in 1952. It has been at the forefront of the struggle for women's rights nationally and internationally. Through the Union's tireless efforts, many rights for women were recognized in the Sudan, including the right to vote and stand for elections -- the Union's President became the first woman member of parliament in 1965, the right to participate in all aspects of economic life, equal pay for equal work, fully paid maternity leave, the right to be consulted before marriage, and abolition of the "Obedience Law" which had forced women to return to their husbands. In 1970, the Union helped to launch a national campaign to eradicate illiteracy amongst women.

Father Julio Tumiri Javier of Bolivia is founder and President for life of the Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia. He has devoted his life to the defense of human rights, especially those of the poor and marginalized. A tireless promoter of cooperative movements, he has always been a staunch defender of the rights of the persecuted and exploited, a bright example of solidarity with the indigenous people of his country, and a tireless champion of social justice.

Mr. Hassib Ben Anmar of Tunisia was President of the Arab Institute of Human Rights and a founding member and Honorary President of the Tunisian League for Human Rights. He is known nationally and internationally for his commitment to and struggle for human rights. He has made an outstanding contribution not only to several human rights non-governmental organizations but also as a founding editor and writer for several newspapers and reviews promoting human rights. By organizing seminars and conferences on international and national human rights instruments, he has contributed significantly to international law and human rights awareness.