the Alternative Nobel Prize Goes To...
WASHINGTON, Sep 29 (IPS) - Social activists from Mexico,
Malaysia, Botswana and Canada have won the 2005 "Right
Livelihood Award", an honour meant to celebrate groups and
individuals who show outstanding vision and work on behalf of the
natural world and its people.
The 250,000-dollar prize, which will be formally presented in the
Swedish Parliament in Stockholm Dec. 9, will be shared by
Francisco Toledo, an artist and community philanthropist in Oaxaca,
Mexico; Canadian trade and social justice campaigners Maude Barlow
and Tony Clarke; Malaysian union and community organiser Irene
Fernandez; and the First People of the Kalahari, a grassroots
Bushmen group that resisted the Botswana government's efforts to
evict them from their ancestral home in the Kalahari Desert.
The "Right Livelihood Award," which is often referred to
as the "Alternative Nobel Prize", has been given to more
than 100 activists from 48 countries since it was founded in 1980
by Jakob von Uexkull, a Swedish-German stamp collector who sold
his collection, worth about a million dollars, to finance the
Its past recipients include the 2004 Nobel Peace laureate and
Kenyan environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, as well as Ken
Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian writer and Ogoni activist who was executed
by the military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha.
Winners of the award should be engaged in work that "fully
respects other people and the natural world" and that
involves some "personal sacrifice".
Toledo, a 65-year-old Zapotec Indian, was recognised for "devoting
himself and his art to the protection, enhancement and renewal of
the architectural and cultural heritage, natural environment and
community life of his native Oaxaca".
A painter who has exhibited in galleries in Mexico, Europe, South
and North America, and Asia, Toledo has created children's
libraries in Indian communities, and founded a number of artistic
and cultural institutions, including the Museo de Arte
Contemporaneo de Oaxaca, the Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca, the
Jorge Luis Borges Library for the Blind, the Centro Cultural Santo
Domingo in Oaxaca, and his own publishing house.
He also helped found Pro-Oax which is dedicated to the protection
and promotion of art, architecture, culture and the environment of
Oaxaca. As a community activist, he has also successfully fought
the construction of modern luxury hotels, parking lots, highways,
a cable car to the nearby Monte Alban archaelogical site, and a
McDonald's fast food outlet in Oaxaca's famous main square.
Barlow and Clarke are long-time activists on trade and justice
issues, currently with a special focus on water. Barlow, 58, has
served as a long-time leader in the Canadian women's movement and
helped found the Council of Canadians, a 100,000-member group with
70 chapters that was originally conceived to fight the Canada-U.S.
Free Trade Agreement and to ensure Canadian sovereignty over its
natural resources, including water. She played a leading role in
opposition the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as
Barlow has written or co-authored some 15 books on globalisation
and the threats it poses to the "the global commons",
the latest being "Too Close for Comfort, Canada's Future in
Fortress North America".
Clarke, 60, served as head of the social action department of the
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and chaired Action Canada
Network, the largest coalition of civil society groups and labour
unions in Canada to oppose the corporate free trade agenda.
In 2002, Clarke and Barlow published "Blue Gold: The Battle
Against Corporate Theft of the World's Water", which has been
published in 40 countries. More recently, Clark authored "Inside
the Bottle", an expose about the world's bottled water
industry and its impact on water resources of the world's poor.
Fernandez, 59, has been Malaysia's most prominent campaigner for
the rights of the most vulnerable people, including migrant
workers, farm workers, domestic workers, prostitutes and AIDS
victims. In the early 1970s, she organised the country's first
textile workers' union and spearheaded efforts to organise workers
in the country's export-processing zones.
In 1976, she joined the Consumers Association of Penang, which
became a leader in consumer rights, environmental protection, and
occupational safety. Beginning in the mid-1980s, she led campaigns
to stop violence against women, including the All Women's Action
Society in which she served as president for five years.
At the same time, she helped found the Asia Pacific Women Law and
Development, where she served as director more than a decade.
In the early 1990s, she became chair of the Pesticide Action
Network, which has promoted campaigns against genetically modified
organisms and corporate control of seeds, as well as worker safety,
and founded Tenaganita, an organisation also headed by her that
campaigns for the rights and welfare of the approximately three
million foreign workers in Malaysia and that also runs a halfway
house for prostitutes with HIV.
Fernandez was arrested in 1996 after publishing a report on abuses
committed against migrant workers and charged with "maliciously
publishing false news". She was found guilty in 2003 and
sentenced to one year in prison. The case is currently on appeal.
The First People of the Kalahari (FPK) represents hundreds of Gana
and Gwi Bushmen of Botswana, who have been among the last to live
on the ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but
who have been forcibly removed since 1996 to resettlement camps
outside the park, where they live mainly on government hand-outs.
The group's leader, Roy Sesana, who will also share the Right
Livelihood Award, was born in the Bushman community of Molapo, at
least 50 years ago. He worked for several years in South Africa
before returning to the central Kalahari in 1971 to train as a
Strongly backed by London-based Survival International, Sesana and
the FPK steadfastly resisted the forced relocations, which they
say are motivated by the government's interest in granting diamond
concessions to De Beers, the multinational diamond company,
through civil disobedience and legal action. In 2002, the
government cut off their natural water supply to force the several
hundred holdouts to move.
Just five days ago, according to Survival International, FPK
leaders, including Sesana, were among a group of 28 Bushmen
arrested by police for trying to take food and water to relatives
who remain in the Game Reserve. The group said the activists were
badly beaten by police after their arrests. The government charged
that they were arrested only after they attacked police "with
an assortment of weapons".
The FPK has been particularly effective in rallying international
support, including a number of celebrities, such as British
actress Julie Christie, to its cause. (END/2005)