From Syria to Russia, Right Livelihood Honors 'Immense' Risk-Takers

Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, are among the 2016 Right Livelihood laureates. It is the first time the award has gone to a Syrian recipient. (Photo: Reuters)

From Syria to Russia, Right Livelihood Honors 'Immense' Risk-Takers

2016 laureates include Turkish newspaper, Egyptian feminist, Russian human rights activist, and Syria Civil Defense

The recipients of the 2016 Right Livelihood Awards--more commonly known as "alternative Nobel Prizes"--include a Turkish newspaper, an Egyptian feminist, a Russian activist, and the renowned Syria Civil Defense team, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation announced on Thursday.

This year marks the first time the organization's award has gone to a laureate from Syria. The civil defense team, often referred to as the "White Helmets," is a volunteer-run organization that primarily does emergency response work in the besieged provinces of Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, and other regions.

Through urban search and rescue operations in the aftermath of airstrikes, Syria Civil Defense has been credited with saving approximately 40,000 people from ruined buildings alone, at the cost of more than 100 volunteers' lives. They also conduct medical and civilian evacuations and delivery of essential services.

"The White Helmets represent ordinary Syrians who want peace and security. These volunteers are a beacon of hope amid the human tragedy of the Syrian civil war," said (pdf) Right Livelihood executive director Ole von Uexkull. "It is therefore even more horrifying that these first responders are themselves targeted....[W]e applaud the compassion, solidarity, and courage of their lifesaving work. We also add our voice to those calling for an immediate end to the conflict that has thus far cost the lives of nearly 500,000 Syrians."

Egypt's Mozn Hassan, who in 2007 founded the organization Nazra for Feminist Studies, received the award for her work documenting and coordinating responses to sexual assault on women participating in public protests, which have been widespread since the country's 2011 revolution. Her efforts helped women receive medical, legal, and psychological support.

Under her leadership, Nazra also helped lobby successfully for the inclusion of women's rights in Egypt's 2014 Constitution.

"Hassan's work has placed her in the crosshairs of various groups during an incredibly turbulent period in Egypt, culminating in the present crackdown on civil society and NGOs," said (pdf) von Uexkull, adding that her efforts should demonstrate that "the fight for equal rights for women in Egypt--and across the world--is far from over."

"This year's Right Livelihood Award Laureates confront some of the most pressing global issues head-on--be it war, freedom of speech, women's rights or the plight of migrants."
--Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood Award Foundation

In Turkey, the award went to Cumhuriyet, the country's oldest national newspaper, known for its investigative work. "In the face of immense personal risks, Cumhuriyet is flying the flag of free speech in Turkey, during a critical time for the people of that nation," said von Uexkull.

The newspaper staff has continued operating in the wake of a widespread post-coup government crackdown that saw at least 131 media outlets shuttered and tens of thousands of public servants fired. Human rights advocates have slammed the government for its response, alleging that detained dissidents were tortured.

The final award went to Russia's Svetlana Gannushkina, founder of the Civic Assistance Committee, which has provided free legal support, education, and humanitarian aid to refugees and other displaced people since 1990. In addition to her work with the committee, she has successfully advocated to prevent forced deportation of migrants from Russia to Central Asian counties where, Right Livelihood states, they would "almost certainly" have been imprisoned and tortured.

"At a time when xenophobia and intolerance is on the rise in many countries around the world, Gannushkina is an inspiring example of the best in human nature," von Uexkull said (pdf).

"This year's Right Livelihood Award Laureates confront some of the most pressing global issues head-on--be it war, freedom of speech, women's rights or the plight of migrants," he continued (pdf). "With the 2016 award, we do not only celebrate their courage, compassion, and commitment; we also celebrate the success of their work, against all odds, and the real difference they are making in the world today."

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