Nicaraguan indigenous rights activist Lottie Cunningham Wren receives 2020 Right Livelihood Award
Indigenous rights and environmental activist Lottie Cunningham Wren of Nicaragua is receiving the 2020 Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” for her work defending the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples to their land and resources, the Right Livelihood Foundation said on Thursday.
The Swedish Right Livelihood Award is an internationally renowned prize honouring courageous changemakers since 1980. By recognizing the actions of brave visionaries and building impactful connections around the world, the Award aims to boost urgent and long-term social change.
Cunningham, a lawyer from the Miskito indigenous group, has been instrumental in ensuring legal protections for indigenous communities, including initiating the process of demarcation and titling of their lands. She has also fought to uphold the human rights of indigenous peoples, protecting them and their livelihoods from armed settlers. Through her work on ensuring indigenous rights, Cunningham has greatly contributed to the protection of the environment.
Cunningham is receiving the Award “for her ceaseless dedication to the protection of indigenous lands and communities from exploitation and plunder.”
“I am deeply grateful for this honour and I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Right Livelihood Foundation for recognizing my people, my team and me for our struggles,” Cunningham said. “I am truly humbled to accept this award in the name of indigenous people on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, especially those who have given their lives defending the territory and our Mother Earth. It will help make our struggles visible in a crucial time when people are facing a humanitarian emergency and Nicaragua is in one of the deepest human rights crises of its history.”
Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Foundation, said, “As an indigenous woman in Nicaragua, Lottie Cunningham Wren has personally experienced the violence and destruction that came from the lack of protections for her people and their land. In response, she has taken the plight of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities all the way to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – and won. By combining innovative legal tools and grassroots mutual solidarity, Cunningham found a way to empower and protect long-marginalised indigenous peoples in Nicaragua and beyond.”
Cunningham will receive a prize money of 1 million SEK to support her work. As in previous years, the 2020 Laureates were nominated in an open process where anyone could submit individuals or organisations for consideration. The Laureates will be honoured during a virtual Award Presentation on December 3, 2020.
The other 2020 Right Livelihood Laureates are:
- Imprisoned human right lawyer and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh of Iran
- Civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson of the United States
- Pro-democracy activist Ales Bialiatski and the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Centre “Viasna” of Belarus
- Find more information on the other Laureates here.
- Photos and videos of the new Laureates can be found here.
Short biography of Lottie Cunningham Wren
Indigenous communities around the world – but especially in Latin America – face a multitude of threats, from land grabs and exploitation of their natural resources to violence, endangering their very existence. In Nicaragua, the majority of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities are harassed by armed settlers, who use the land to ranch cattle and harvest wood while pushing indigenous communities off their farmlands and out of their villages. Because of the state’s promotion of extractive industries, vital natural resources, such as clean water sources, are often destroyed.
Through the use of international and domestic law, Cunningham has secured indigenous land rights in Nicaragua, pioneering legal strategies that have been successfully used by indigenous communities around the world to demarcate their lands. Cunningham has also shown that the protection of indigenous land is instrumental to the protection of local ecosystems. She has played an important role in supporting the mobilisation against the planned Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal, a Chinese-financed government project to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The construction of the canal would cut through indigenous territories, lead to their forced displacement and destroy ecosystems needed for their survival.
A fierce advocate for her people, Cunningham has also advanced the rights of indigenous women, including establishing programmes to reduce domestic violence and pushing to create space for them in decision-making bodies. She also works to educate youth on how to formally demand respect for their human rights and report violations.
Despite threats and intimidation, Cunningham remains unwavering in her commitment to empower and protect indigenous communities from external forces engaged in the exploitation of their lands.
Place of Birth: Bilwaskarma, a Miskitu village on the Rio Coco, Atlantic Nicaragua
Date of Birth: September 29, 1959
Education: Central America University, Managua (JD, 1994)
Cunningham is the second Right Livelihood Laureate from Nicaragua. Social and human rights advocate Bianca Jagger received the distinction in 2004.
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About the Right Livelihood Award
Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award aims to nurture the human courage needed to achieve peace, justice and sustainability for all. By recognizing the actions of brave visionaries and building impactful connections around the world, the Award aims to boost urgent and long-term social change.
182 Laureates from 72 countries have received the distinction to date.
The Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Foundation presenting the Award sees its role as being a megaphone and shield for the Laureates, providing them with long-term support. The Foundation’s main aims are to raise the profile of the Laureates and their work, provide protection when Laureates’ lives and liberty are in danger, and educate people on the innovative solutions presented by Laureates. The Foundation has Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
A particular feature of the Award is that anyone can nominate individuals and organisations for consideration. An international Jury selects the Laureates after careful investigation by the Foundation’s research team. Unlike most other international prizes, the Right Livelihood Award has no categories. It recognises that in striving to meet the challenges of today’s world, the most inspiring and remarkable work often defies any standard classification.