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Winners of 2018 United Nations human rights prize at a panel discussion. Winners of 2018 United Nations human rights prize at a panel discussion. 

Four human rights champions honoured with top UN rights award

The United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights is awarded every 5 years to organizations and individuals in the forefront of defending human rights.

By Robin Gomes

Pakistan’s fearless human rights activist and lawyer, late Asma Jahangir was posthumously awarded the 2018 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, along with 3 others at a ceremony at the UN on Tuesday.

They are Rebeca Gyumi of Tanzania, an activist for women’s and girls’ rights, Joênia Wapichana of Brazil who fights for the rights of indigenous communities, and Front Line Defenders, an Irish organization that fights for the protection of human rights defenders.

Every five years, the UN human rights prize is awarded to organizations and individuals which embody excellent activism in the defence of human rights.

This year’s winners were announced earlier on 25 October.

As part of the UN’s activities in observance of Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, which this year coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the human rights champions from across the world were honoured at the General Assembly Hall on Dec. 18.

UN chief

Speaking at the event, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the work of the winners and of other human rights defenders around the world is essential for the collective efforts to sustain peace and ensure inclusive sustainable development and respect for human rights for all.

Listen to Antonio Guterres

He said human rights defenders give voice to the voiceless and shield the powerless against injustice.  They work to empower people through education, and help to protect other human rights defenders from harassment, intimidation or arrest, Guterres added.


Jahangir who died of cardiac arrest on Feb. 11 at the age of 66, was represented by her daughter Munizae at the awards ceremony.  Munizae said she was sure her mother who also fought religious extremism and for the rights of oppressed minorities, would have liked to share her award with human rights defenders across the world and with the women of Pakistan whom she spent a lifetime defending.

The four winners join a small but notable group who have been recognized since the prize was established by the General Assembly in 1966. Among them are figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Malala Yusafzai, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, and organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

19 December 2018, 16:13