This year, for the eighth time, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) together with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation, awarded the international prestigious Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. At the beginning of the award ceremony in a live broadcast from the session of the PACE in Strasbourg, Václav Havel’s words in his speech to the European Parliament in 1990 were symbolically recalled: “The world could become a better place if, from time to time, we had the courage to look up at the stars.”
Loujain Al-Hathloul, who was announced as a laureate for 2020, has the courage to fight for a better world. Ms Al-Hathloul is one of the leaders of the Saudi feminist movement and the activist known for leading the campaign opposing the ban on women’s driving in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi male guardianship system and fighting for the greater protection of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia in the conservative Sunni kingdom.
For her engagement in women’s rights, Loujain has been kidnapped, illegally imprisoned, brutally tortured, and identified by the authorities as a terrorist. The Award was officially accepted by her sister Lina, because even though Loujain was released from prison after 1001 days in February this year, she is still being held under house arrest in Saudi Arabia and has to follow many restrictions. “The international support is the only way we can expose injustice in our country and protect the victims. Thank you for giving us the strength to continue our fight,” said Lina Al-Hathloul during the ceremony.
For the first time in the history of Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, the final trio of nominees has consisted just of women. “Their extraordinary attitudes, courage and commitment to the values they hold, deserve our attention. I hope that the prestigious award nomination alone could help promote their stories and bring the attention of the international public,” said Michaela Bakala, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Václav Havel Library.
The other nominee was a group of young Buddhist nuns from the Amitabha Drukpa Monastery in Nepal, known known for their delivery of supplies to hard-to-reach villages after an earthquake struck Kathmandu in 2015. The Nuns of the Drukpa Order have also taught self-defence classes for women and biked over 20,000 kilometres to protest against the trafficking of women and girls.
The third nominee was Julienne Lusenge of the Congo, who who has been documenting sexual abuse and acts of violence against women in Congo. She was instrumental in obtaining the conviction by the ICC of Thomas Lubanga for enlisting child soldiers and collected evidence of sexual slavery, as well as obtaining the convictions of hundreds of perpetrators of sexual violence against women at national level.