The Right Livelihood Award – The Alternative Nobel

The Right Livelihood Award – The Alternative Nobel

Three jailed Saudi human rights defenders have been named winners of “The Right Livelihood Award”, known as the “Alternative Nobel” award, along with two Latin American anti-corruption crusaders, a farmer, and an agricultural scientist on Monday 24 September 2018 in Copenhagen.

The Right Livelihood Award, created in 1980, is an international award to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.” The award honours efforts that prize founder Jacob von Uexkull – German-Swedish philanthropist, felt were being ignored by the Nobel prizes. An international jury, invited by the five regular Right Livelihood Award board members, decides the awards in such fields as Environmental Protection, Human Rights, Sustainable Development, Health, Education and Peace.  The award is presented annually in November/ December and the ceremony since 1985 has taken place in Stockholm’s old Parliament building, in the days before the traditional Nobel prizes are awarded in the same city.

The prize money is shared among the winners, usually numbering four. Very often one of the four laureates receives an honorary award, which means that the other three share the prize money.

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation announced a one million kronor ($113,400) cash award for 2018 jointly to Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair “for their visionary and courageous efforts” to reform the “totalitarian political system in Saudi Arabia”, according to the  prize foundation.

“The three laureates have challenged this authoritarian system through peaceful methods, calling for universal human rights, and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy,” according to the jury.

Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid were founding activists of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known by its Arabic acronym HASEM. In 2013, they were sentenced by Saudi authorities to 10 and 11 years, respectively for “providing inaccurate information to foreign media, founding and operating an unlicensed human rights organisation, as well as other offenses”.

Waleed Abu al-Khair, activist and lawyer was arrested in 2014 for signing a statement with dozens of others calling for reforms in the kingdom. He later received a 15-year sentence for “disobeying the ruler” and “harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organizations,” likely over his work as an outspoken activist.

The 2018 honorary award is to be presented on November 23 in Stockholm, to Thelma Aldana of Guatemala and Colombia’s Ivan Velasquez, “for their innovative work in exposing abuse of power and prosecuting corruption.” Aldana and Velasquez are respectively the former chief prosecutor and the serving head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by the Spanish acronym CICIG. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has rejected a Guatemalan request to name a new head of CICIG, saying he “does not see any reason to change his current position of support for” Velasquez.

The other two winners are Yacouba Sawadogo, a farmer from Burkina Faso who transformed an almost 40-hectare piece of inhospitable land into forest, and Australian Tony Rinaudo, an agronomist who has taken on the role of combating the Sahel region’s extreme deforestation.

The Right Livelihood Award 2017 was shared by Colin Gonsalves, New Delhi-based Supreme Court lawyer “for his tireless and innovative use of public interest litigation over three decades to secure fundamental human rights for India’s most marginalised and vulnerable citizens”; with two other laureates — Khadija Ismayilova from Azerbaijan and Robert Bilott from the US

Previous winners include former NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK-based NGO working towards the abolition of the international arms trade, and the White Helmets, a Syrian rescue group that helps victims of the country’s brutal civil war.

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