They speak out against injustice, work to help those who are persecuted, refuse to be silenced and often jeopardise their own safety: Human rights need people to fight for them. From now on, Germany and France will annually award a new medal to women and men from all over the world who have shown particular courage in their engagement for the protection of human rights.
Human rights are universal rights: that means that they apply to everyone, from their birth – unconditionally and equally, wherever they are in the world. Today, the existence of human rights is internationally recognised. Nonetheless, they are unfortunately by no means something we can take for granted. Whether through brutal violence or subtle censorship, human rights are violated across the globe.
In many countries, great courage is required to speak out against such injustice. Anyone who defends human rights and criticises shortcomings often not only risks their own safety but also that of their families. Human rights activists therefore need support and encouragement.
“It always seems impossible, until it is done”
Civil courage, persistence and tenacity can move mountains for human rights. “It always seems impossible until it is done” – this was the motto of Nelson Mandela, who spent decades behind prison walls before his dream of freedom and equality in South Africa became a reality. Yet many significant human rights defenders are barely known to the international public.
Germany and France had therefore decided to establish an annual international Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. The prize was awarded for the first time on 1 December 2016. During a ceremony in Berlin, then Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his then French counterpart Jean‑Marc Ayrault presented the medal to 16 men and women who have shown particular engagement and courage in working for human rights and the rule of law in their home countries.
Assistance for activists
Germany’s and France’s joint engagement for human rights is not a new phenomenon. In some countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Guinea, Franco‑German prizes for human rights have already been awarded. By joining forces, the two countries can be more effective in raising the profile of the work of significant human rights defenders. This being the case, from now on the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law will be put on an international footing.
The prizewinners will receive a certificate and a medal designed by artist Anna Martha Napp. The medal symbolises their active commitment to the defence of human rights and sends a clear message of appreciation.