Alternative Nobel Winners Bring Hope to 'Challenged Planet'

Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier was one of the recipients of the prize for her work in gaining rights for Inuit communities. (Photo: Right Livelihood Award)

Alternative Nobel Winners Bring Hope to 'Challenged Planet'

Human rights activists from Canada, Uganda, Italy, and Marshall Islands receive honors for 'inspiring response to the defining challenges of our time.'

The 2015 Right Livelihood Awards, also known as the "alternative Nobels," recognized individuals--including one country's entire population--who presented solutions to human rights crises around the world.

Those honors went to Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier; Ugandan LGBTI rights activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera; and Italian war surgeon Gino Strada. An honorary Right Livelihood Award also went to Tony de Brum, a Marshall Islands government minister, as well as the people of the Marshall Islands.

Watt-Cloutier, an elected representative of the Inuit of the Arctic, helped overhaul the educational system in Nunavik, Northern Quebec to help it better meet the needs of the Inuit community. She also fought to have Inuit human rights recognized within the fight against climate change.

"I am truly grateful to be recognized for such a prestigious award at a time when our common troubled atmosphere and our challenged planet is crying out for action from global leaders," Watt-Cloutier said. "[T]his resonance of truth with others around the world continues to give me hope that we are headed towards a world that embraces our common humanity."

Nabagesera, whose work to advance LGBTI equality in Uganda has made her one of the most recognizable human rights activists in Africa, founded the NGO Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) in 2003 to lobby for policy changes and dispel homophobic myths countrywide. As an activist and a lesbian operating in a hostile environment, Nabagesera has overcome threats and institutional oppression to help empower LGBTI communities to assert their rights.

"The Award will support the work to protect our community and hopefully open some doors for dialogue with those who still don't understand why human rights belong to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity," she said.

Strada founded EMERGENCY, a war surgery nonprofit, in 1994. These days, the organization operates more than 60 hospitals, clinics, and first aid posts in countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Central African Republic, where it operates the only free pediatric clinic in the area. The hospitals also provide training to regional staff with the end goal of creating sustainable, locally owned and operated health centers around the world. Strada has also spoken out against Italy's military involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For its final and honorary prize, the Right Livelihood Awards recognized the people of the Marshall Islands and its Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, who filed unprecedented lawsuits against all nine nuclear weapons states--the U.S., China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the UK--for their failure to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in a case that became known as the Nuclear Zero Lawsuits. De Brum was also recognized for his role in gaining independence for the Marshall Islands and his continued efforts in combating climate change as leader of a frontline nation.

"This year's Right Livelihood Laureates stand up for our basic rights--be it the rights of indigenous peoples or LGBTI communities, or the right of all citizens to live in a world free from the scourges of war and climate chaos," said the foundation's executive director Ole von Uexkull. "With their tireless work, on the frontlines and in courts, the Laureates uphold the values that led to the creation of the United Nations seventy years ago. In this year of global humanitarian crises, they provide an inspiring response to the defining challenges of our time."

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