Published on Monday, December 11, 2000 by Inter Press Service
Alternative Nobel Prize For Lawyer-Activist Munir
by Pia Daleke
STOCKHOLM - The Indonesian labour lawyer and human rights activist Munir is among the four recipients of the 2000 Right Livelihood Awards, also referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize, presented at a ceremony in the Swedish parliament Friday.

Munir is one of the most devoted fighters for civilian control of the powerful Indonesian army. In his view, the key to a better situation for human rights in Indonesia is to destroy the culture of fear among the people.

Founder-chairman of the award, Jakob von Uexkull, said at the ceremony Friday: ''During the decades of authoritarian rule, we were told by Suharto's Western friends that different rules, rights and values applied in Indonesia.''

Uexkull is a Swedish-German philatelic expert, who sold his valuable postage stamps to provide the original endowment for the awards.

Alfred Nobel, who bestowed the Nobel Prizes, wanted to honour those whose work ''brought the greatest benefit to humanity''. But von Uexkull felt that Nobel Prizes tended to ignore much work and knowledge vital for the survival of humankind.

The so-called Asian values were said to put greater emphasis on community rather than individual rights.

''Add this to the rise of fundamentalism, the search for scapegoats, the unwillingness of the military to step back and accept the primacy of democracy - and you have an idea of the challenges facing Munir,'' added Uexkull.

As founder of the human rights organisation Kontras, the Indonesian lawyer has worked to encourage respect for due process of law and promote reconciliation.

He has developed media education for human rights and teaches human rights in police and army training seminars. He is a member of the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in Timor and of the drafting committee for a law on human rights courts.

''The biggest threat against a positive development towards democracy in Indonesia, besides the fact that the military still has a lot of influence in politics, is the culture of fear among our people,'' said Munir at a press conference Wednesday in Stockholm.

Like many an Indonesian he only uses one name.

''That is why my organisation Kontras' most important task right now is to build a network between ordinary individuals to change people's minds after years of totalitarianism. Human Rights is not only about law suits, it's a mass movement,'' said Munir.

Kontras, which stands for Commission for Disappearance and Victims of Violence, is a human rights organisation which focuses on fighting political and military violence, giving support to victims of violence to recover physically and psychologically and promoting reconciliation and peace.

The Right Livelihood Award was founded in 1980 to ''honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today''.

Munir said: ''This award is very important for Kontras as a motive to keep on struggling for a better situation for human rights in Indonesia. It will also highlight these issues back home.

''Our next goal is to reform the law to stop the impunity that are now given to the military,'' said Munir.

Although the power of the military indeed has decreased since the ousting of ex-president Suharto in 1998, the armed forces are still trying to keep the control of civil society and the bureaucracy on all levels, according to Munir.

Munir is also the head of the operational division of Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI). He played an important part in some well-known cases in late 1997 and early 1998, including the one when 24 pro-democracy activists were abducted under suspicious circumstances.

Thanks to the work of Munir, 11 students were released, but the rest are still missing. Eleven military officers were brought to trial in March 1999, as a result of YLBHI's efforts.

In September 1999 Munir was appointed a member of the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor, which later led to an investigation into the conduct of six senior army officers, including the former chief of staff, General Wiranto.

Besides Munir, this year's awards were given to activists from Ethiopia, Turkey and the United States.

The Ethiopian scientist Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher was awarded for ''for his exemplary work in representing the Like-Minded Group of developing countries at the Biosafety negotiations in Cartagena and Montreal, and achieving an outcome that safeguards bio-diversity and the traditional rights of farmers and communities to their genetic resources''.

The Turkish environmentalist Birsel Lemke was recognised ''for her long-standing struggle to protect her country from the devastation of cyanide-based gold mining and her key role in the international campaign to ban this disastrous technology''.

''My work is also about human rights. Therefore I call on all western countries to withdraw their support to the mine enterprises and respect the Turkish constitution that says the human rights of each individual must be respected,'' said Lemke at a press conference Wednesday.

The US plant geneticist Wes Jackson was honoured ''for his single- minded commitment over more than two decades to developing an agriculture based on perennial crops that is both highly productive and truly ecologically sustainable''.

Together the award winners receive about 200,000 dollars.

''All my money will be given to Kontras,'' said Munir.

The of the Right Livelihood award are chosen by an international jury which includes Jakob von Uexkull, founder-chairman of the Right Livelihood Award.

The award winners in the last two decades include Norway's Johann Galtung, known as the founder-father of research, who bagged the honour in 1987.

Six years later, Vandana Shiva of India was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse.

In 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa, founder of the MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) in Ogoniland, Nigeria, was decorated for exemplary courage in striving non-violently for the rights of the Ogoni people.

In 1998, the Right Livelihood award was given to the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), for its campaign for the right of mothers to breastfeed their babies.

Copyright 2000 IPS