2019 Right Livelihood Award Laureates Announced
Stockholm, 25 September 2019
The Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The 2019 Award goes to Aminatou Haidar (Western Sahara), Guo Jianmei (China), Greta Thunberg (Sweden) and Davi Kopenawa / Hutukara Yanomami Association (Brazil). The Laureates were announced in Stockholm, Sweden, today.
The announcement was made during a press conference at the International Press Centre at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Foundation, commented: “With the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, we honour four practical visionaries whose leadership has empowered millions of people to defend their inalienable rights and to strive for a liveable future for all on planet Earth. Besides the prize money, we offer the Laureates long-term support and will help protect those whose lives and liberty are in danger.”
The international jury has selected four Laureates who will each receive 1 million SEK (94,000 EUR):
The human rights defender Aminatou Haidar (Western Sahara) receives the Right Livelihood Award “for her steadfast nonviolent action, despite imprisonment and torture, in pursuit of justice and self-determination for the people of Western Sahara”.
Over 30 years of peaceful campaigning for the independence of her homeland have earned Haidar the byname “Sahrawi Gandhi”. Her dignity and resolve make her one of the most respected leaders among the Sahrawis. It is the first time that a Right Livelihood Award goes to a Laureate from Western Sahara.
Aminatou Haidar commented:
“I feel very honored to receive the renowned Right Livelihood Award. This is a recognition of my non-violent struggle and the just cause of the Sahrawi people. Despite military occupation and violations of fundamental human rights, they continue their peaceful struggle. The Sahrawis deserve to be supported by all so that, one day, they will achieve independence and freedom.”
The lawyer Guo Jianmei (China) receives the Right Livelihood Award “for her pioneering and persistent work in securing women’s rights in China”.
Guo is one of the most distinguished lawyers in the field of women’s rights in China. Throughout her career, she has helped thousands of disadvantaged women in getting access to justice.
Guo Jianmei commented:
“This award recognises and acknowledges the efforts of my team and me to uphold women’s rights and promote democracy and the rule of law in China, under difficult circumstances for the past 25 years. Currently, pro bono legal work in China is facing enormous challenges. To stand firm, we will need more passion, courage, perseverance and commitment. This award serves as an encouragement and motivation.”
Climate activist Greta Thunberg (Sweden) receives the Right Livelihood Award “for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts”.
Thunberg is the powerful voice of a young generation that will have to bear the consequences of today’s political failure to stop climate change. Her resolve to not put up with the looming climate disaster has inspired millions of peers to also raise their voices and demand immediate climate action.
Greta Thunberg commented:
“I’m deeply grateful for being one of the recipients of this great honour. But of course, whenever I receive an award, it is not me who is the winner. I am part of a global movement of school children, youth and adults of all ages who have decided to act in defence of our living planet. I share this award with them. The Right Livelihood Award is a huge recognition for Fridays For Future and the climate strike movement. Thank you so very much!”
Indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami people, and the Hutukara Yanomami Association (Brazil) jointly receive the Right Livelihood Award “for their courageous determination to protect the forests and biodiversity of the Amazon, and the lands and culture of its indigenous peoples”.
Kopenawa is one of the most respected indigenous leaders in Brazil. He has dedicated his life to protecting Yanomami rights, their culture and lands in the Amazon. Kopenawa is co-founder and President of the Hutukara Yanomami Association which is conserving the rainforest and advancing indigenous rights in Brazil.
Davi Kopenawa commented:
“I am very happy to receive the award. It comes just at the right time and it is a show of trust in me and Hutukara and all those who defend the forest and planet Earth. The Award gives me the strength to continue the fight to defend the soul of the Amazon forest. We, the peoples of the planet, need to preserve our cultural heritage as Omame [the Creator] taught – to live well caring for our land so that future generations continue to use it.”
The international jury considered 142 nominations from 59 countries, after an open nomination process. The prize money is designated to support the Laureates’ work, it is not for personal use.
Laureates will receive their prizes at the 2019 Right Livelihood Award Celebration in Stockholm on 4 December. As the Award celebrates 40 years, the public is for the first time ever invited to participate in its presentation. Edward Snowden, who received the Right Livelihood Award in 2014, will join the celebration via link from Moscow and the artists José González and Ane Brun will perform at the event. Tickets for the Award Celebration are available via Cirkus.se.
Notes to Editors:
- Short biographies of the 2019 Laureates
- About the Right Livelihood Award
- How it all began – The Nobel Foundation rejected an environmental prize
For further information and to arrange interviews, please contact:
- International & Swedish-speaking media: Johannes Mosskin, Director of Communications,
mobile: +46 (0)70 43 71 148, firstname.lastname@example.org
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- French & Mandarin speaking media: Claudia Witte +41 (0)79 2116 561, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Spanish-speaking media: Nayla Azzinnari, mobile: +54 9 11 5460 9860, email@example.com
Further details on the Laureates, alongside high-resolution photographs and videos, are available at: rightlivelihood.org/2019-announcement
About the Laureates
Aminatou Haidar (Western Sahara)
Aminatou Haidar is an outstanding nonviolent activist and human rights defender from Western Sahara. Spain, the former colonial power, abandoned the disputed territory in 1975, and Morocco immediately annexed it. Over 30 years of peaceful campaigning for the independence of her homeland have earned Haidar the byname “Sahrawi Gandhi”. Her dignity and resolve make her one of the most respected leaders among the Sahrawis.
The indigenous people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawis, have repeatedly been promised the right to self-determination by the UN, Spain and Morocco. But more than 40 years have passed without a referendum being held, with the international community indifferent or even complicit in the occupation.
Aminatou Haidar started her activism as a teenager and is one of the founders of the Sahrawi human rights movement. She has organised demonstrations, documented cases of torture and carried out several hunger strikes to raise awareness about the violations suffered by her people. Haidar is the co-founder and President of the human rights organisation Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA). She plays a crucial role in drawing international attention to the unresolved Western Sahara issue, which for long has been neglected by the UN, the EU and the media.
Since the first days of its occupation, Moroccan authorities have suppressed Sahrawis demanding the right to self-determination and respect of fundamental human rights. Like many other Sahrawi activists, Aminatou Haidar has been beaten, tortured and detained without charges or trial. She spent four years in a secret prison, isolated from the outside world.
Despite death threats and harassment, directed at herself and her two children, Aminatou Haidar tirelessly campaigns for a political solution to one of the world’s longest frozen conflicts and tries to instil the merits of non-violent action in the next generation of Sahrawis.
Ole von Uexkull commented: “The Sahrawi people have been suffering under Moroccan occupation for more than 40 years and any opposition is brutally punished. Aminatou Haidar’s courage and determination to organise nonviolent resistance and speak up internationally is an inspiration for everyone who believes in justice.”
Guo Jianmei (China)
Guo Jianmei is one of the most distinguished lawyers in the field of women’s rights in China.
Throughout her career, she assisted thousands of disadvantaged women in getting access to justice. She consistently addresses gender bias in the justice system and helps raise gender awareness in China, a country with around 650 million women.
Guo Jianmei has founded and directed several organisations for the protection of women’s rights. As China’s first public interest lawyer working full-time in legal aid, she successfully introduced the concept of pro bono legal services for marginalised persons into the Chinese context. Since 1995, she and her teams have offered free legal counselling to more than 120,000 women all over China and have been involved in more than 4000 lawsuits to enforce women’s rights and advance gender equality.
Guo Jianmei’s work shines a spotlight on the state of women’s rights in China, where one in four married women has experienced some form of domestic violence at the hands of a husband, and gender discrimination at the workplace is rampant. Guo guides women through lawsuits and carries out legal advocacy at a national level on issues like unequal pay, sexual harassment, work contracts that prohibit pregnancies and forced early retirement without compensation. In rural China, where patriarchal attitudes are still deeply rooted, Guo provides legal support for women who have been denied their land rights. In 2005, she created the China Public Interest Lawyers Network that gathers more than 600 not-for-profit lawyers who can take up cases even in remote regions of China. Together with colleagues, she also provided a vast number of legal comments and research that led to the refinement and improvement of relevant laws and regulations.
In the face of a dramatically shrinking space for civil society in China, Guo Jianmei has shown courage and extraordinary resilience. Her work continues to impact the lives of millions of Chinese women.
Ole von Uexkull commented: “Guo Jianmei is a pioneer of women’s rights. She has provided legal support to thousands of Chinese women and demonstrated how the law can be used to successfully fight gender discrimination.”
Greta Thunberg (Sweden)
Greta Thunberg is a teenage climate activist from Sweden. She is the powerful voice of a young generation that will have to bear the consequences of today’s political failure to stop climate change. Her resolve to not put up with the looming climate disaster has inspired millions of peers to also raise their voices and demand immediate climate action.
In August 2018, with the Swedish Parliamentary election only weeks away, 15-year old Greta Thunberg saw with despair how politicians lacked strategies to combat climate change – if they even cared at all about the issue. Knowing that the life of present and future generations depend on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, Thunberg took matters in her own hands. She went on “school strike for climate” outside the Swedish Parliament.
The initiative was picked up widely both online and in the media, and young activists joined Thunberg outside the Parliament building. Others organised school strikes elsewhere. The movement #FridaysForFuture was born and millions of people – young and old – have taken to the streets since.
Driven by her scientific understanding of the climate crisis and the insufficient response of politics and society to the problem, it became Thunberg’s mission to promote action against climate change. She personifies the notion that everyone has the power to create change. Her example has inspired and empowered people from all walks of life to demand political action.
Thunberg continues to tirelessly convey her message: acknowledge the facts, realise the urgency of the climate crisis and act accordingly. She speaks at high-level conferences, meets world leaders, and gives guidance to a growing global movement.
Many people before Thunberg have tried to convey the urgency of immediate climate action. No one has been more successful. Her uncompromising way to speak truth to power resonates with the public. Greta Thunberg has managed to get the climate crisis not only on the cover page of newspapers but also on top of people’s minds.
Ole von Uexkull commented: “With the Award to Greta Thunberg, we honour one of the most effective civil society leaders of our time and celebrate the power of every human being to make a difference.”
Davi Kopenawa / Hutukara Yanomami Association
Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami people is one of the most respected indigenous leaders in Brazil. He has dedicated his life to protecting Yanomami rights, their culture and lands in the Amazon. Their territory is among the planet’s most important reservoirs of genetic diversity but high political pressure to exploit the Amazon’s natural resources is instigating invasions of indigenous lands. The violence, devastation and disease that follows are posing a severe threat to both biodiversity and the very existence of indigenous tribes.
The Yanomami people are one of the most populous indigenous tribes in Brazil with about 35,000 members. The combined area inhabited by the Yanomami in Brazil and Venezuela makes it the largest indigenous territory inhabited by one tribe in a tropical rainforest in the world – larger than Greece.
Twenty per cent of the Yanomami died in only seven years during the 1980s and 1990s, after gold miners destroyed villages, shot people and exposed the population to diseases to which they have no immunity. Today, these threats are increasing again. Kopenawa plays a fundamental role in uniting indigenous communities to resist the miners, ranchers and other powerful interests, destroying Yanomami lands and livelihoods for financial gain. He was instrumental in securing the 1992 demarcation of Yanomami lands in Brazil at over 96,000 square kilometres. Kopenawa’s long-running activism has gained him many powerful enemies, and he continuously faces death threats.
Davi Kopenawa is co-founder and President of the Hutukara Yanomami Association. Created in 2004, the organisation unites and represents disparate Yanomami communities in Brazil, advancing indigenous rights in the country. Hutukara is also conserving the rainforest. In light of the rapid decline in biodiversity across the world and the worsening effects of climate change, Yanomami knowledge on how to preserve and sustainably inhabit their lands, for the benefit of all, is significant.
Ole von Uexkull commented: “Davi Kopenawa is, together with Hutukara Yanomami Association, successfully resisting the ruthless exploitation of indigenous lands in the Amazon, protecting our common planetary heritage.”
About the Right Livelihood Award
Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honours and supports courageous people solving global problems. To date, there are 178 Laureates from 70 countries.
The Swedish Right Livelihood Foundation presenting the Award sees its role as being the megaphone and shield for the Laureates and provides them with long-term support. It seeks to help protect those Award recipients whose life and liberty are in danger. The Foundation has Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
Anyone can propose candidates to be considered for the Right Livelihood Award. The Laureates are selected by an international Jury 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.
How it all began – The Nobel Foundation rejected an environmental prize
In 1979, the Swedish-German philanthropist and stamp collector Jakob von Uexkull turned to the Nobel Foundation with the proposal to create two new Nobel Prizes, one environmental award and one award to promote knowledge and perspectives of people in poor countries. To fund the prizes, he offered to sell his stamp collection, worth more than one million US Dollars, and donate the money to the Nobel Foundation.
Jakob was alarmed by the disconnect between the urgency of global problems and the way the international community was dealing with them. He saw how decision-makers were meeting behind closed doors, out of touch with reality. Activists and civil society organisations were at the same time gathering outside the meeting rooms, often presenting constructive solutions to the problems. But their proposals were not taken seriously, and Jakob wanted to do something about it.
“Whoever gets the Nobel Prize will be listened to”, he thought and contacted the Nobel Foundation, which politely rejected the proposal to establish two new awards. There and then, Jakob decided to create the Right Livelihood Award to support people fighting for a just, peaceful and sustainable world. He went ahead and sold parts of the stamp collection, and that was how it all began. The Right Livelihood Award received a lot of attention when it was presented for the first time in 1980, one day before the Nobel Prize. Today, it is one of the most prestigious awards in sustainability, social justice and peace.
Income from the sale of stamps generated sufficient means to kick off the prize but ever since the Right Livelihood Award has been receiving its funding from private donors. A unique feature is that the Award comes with long-term support that includes networking and protection for Laureates under threat. Because of its founding history, it has come to be known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’.