Human Rights Day: 10 Right Livelihood Laureates standing up every day for Human Rights 

News 10.12.2020

On this day, 72 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It is considered a milestone document which lists the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being, regardless of gender, race, religion, language, nationality, opinions or any other status. A human rights-based approach to policy-making can help ensure that no one is left behind and is therefore key to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Today is therefore an opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental role that human rights play in solving global problems. The United Nations, therefore, calls us to “Stand up for Human Rights,” and on this occasion, we would like to showcase the inspirational examples of 10 Right Livelihood Laureates who stand up every day to contribute to a better society. 

Democratic values are inherently enshrined in the declaration as “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country” (art. 21). Democracy and human rights are preconditions for a just, peaceful and sustainable society. 

Press freedom is a milestone of a functioning democracy and a key component of our freedom of information. Nevertheless, attacks on journalists have been on the rise in recent years, and 2020 was not an exception. 2017 Right Livelihood Laureate Khadija Ismayilova is at the forefront of defending such right in Azerbaijan, after having revealed a wide range of corrupt and lucrative business deals involving President Aliyev’s family members through her outstanding investigative journalism. Earlier this year, she had explained to us how the authorities are currently continuing to silence the press and activists under the pretext of containing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year, not only we have observed as some authoritarian regimes have abused emergency health measures to restrict fundamental freedoms, but we have also watched as the Belarusian people were brutally repressed by the Lukashenka regime for demanding free and fair elections . In this context, 2020 Right Livelihood Laureates Ales Bialiatski and Human Rights Center “Viasna” have been documenting human rights abuses and monitoring elections, despite threats and intimidation. Viasna has become the country’s leading non-governmental organisation contributing to the development of the civil society in Belarus. 

2020 was also the year in which Saudi Arabia chaired over the G20, despite the State’s continuing disregard for human rights and democratic values. In the country, anyone calling for democratic reform and the respect for fundamental rights sits in jail. 2018 Right Livelihood Laureates Waleed Abulkhair and Mohammed al Qatani are among these courageous men and women punished for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work. We must stand by all activists and human rights defenders worldwide, striving for a more just and peaceful society. 

While some courageous men and women strive for improving their country’s political system, some are still fighting for their inalienable right to self determination. It is the case of 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar, who is committed to pursuing freedom for Western Sahara, a territory that has been for more than thirty years under occupation by the Kingdom of Morocco, which systematically commits  gross human rights violations against the Sahrawi people. In the 2006 OHCHR report on the Ad Hoc mission to Western Sahara, the United Nations recognised that “all human rights abuses committed against the Sahrawi people stem from the non-implementation of their right to self-determination.” It is only through the realisation of this basic right of people to determine their future and political status that we can begin to address others, such as dignity, justice,  and the respect and protection of all Human Rights.  


While they should be protected, promoted and respected by countries, Human Rights know no borders, they should be upheld everywhere. Despite the inadmissibility of discrimination enshrined in the Universal Human Rights Declaration, however, some human beings continue to not be treated equally. The next four Laureates strive to break those walls, ensuring respect for human rights for all. 

Women account for half of the world’s population. Nevertheless, women and girls continue to be systematically discriminated against throughout their whole lives, starting from birth. Eliminating discrimination against women in law and practice, including all forms of sexual and gender based violence, is a necessary step towards the full realisation of Human Rights. 2016 Laureate Mozn Hassan conducts an every-day battle for gender equality, working along with her team at Nazra for Feminist Studies towards strengthening the feminist movement in Egypt and the MENA region. 

Everyone should be able to be and love who they want. Yet, too many countries continue to have discriminatory laws restricting LGBTI rights. 2015 Laureate Kasha Nabagesera is a champion in fighting homophobia, shedding light on numerous human rights violations, and campaigning against unjust laws in Uganda, despite arrests and physical attacks. Her advocacy remains as relevant as ever, as the COVID-19 outbreak further exacerbated the stigmatisation and homophobic rethoritc in the country, with sexual minorities being targeted and blamed by some for the disease. 

Despite their fundamental role in defending and protecting Mother Earth, indigenous peoples across the world still suffer violent attacks and criminalisation. While some States seem to have protection legislation in place, political will is missing. This is the case of Nicaragua, where 2020 Laureate Lottie Cunningham Wren leads the indigenous peoples’ struggle for their very survival. She is at the forefront of ensuring that their rights are protected and their land preserved, despite increasing threats which are not accounted for by the government. 

Across borders, around 1 billion people are currently living with disabilities. Nevertheless, they continue to live with stigma and discrimination, unable to enjoy the human rights they are entitled. They are often isolated both from their communities and from policymaking. 2017 Right Livelihood Laureate Yetnebersh Nigussie tirelessly works to change perception on disability internationally, striving to create inclusive conditions for future generations by connecting national realities with international frameworks. 


While the examples up until now focus on Civil and Political Rights, numerous Right Livelihood Laureates work towards the achievement of Economic Social and Cultural Rights, two of them have been increasingly relevant this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In fact, the health crisis has been a warning call for governments to invest more into upholding the right to health of their people, leaving no one behind. States have in fact an obligation to ensure access to timely, acceptable and affordable healthcare. For years, 2015 Laureates Gino Strada and Emergency, have recognised the “right to be cured” offering free, high-quality, medical treatment to victims of war and poverty, in places where functioning health-care systems are often nonexistent. 

States also have to provide for the underlying determinants of health, such as water and sanitation, food, housing and health-related education. We have repeatedly heard how important it was to wash our hands in these difficult times. Running clear water seems a given to many of us, yet, it is estimated that by 2050, seven billion people will be affected by water crises. 2005 Laureate Maude Barlow has been a key advocate for the rights to water and sanitation, which the UN General Assembly recognised in 2010 as “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.” She continues to assist communities struggling with water rights and to be outspoken about the danger of “taking water for granted.” 

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