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Václav Havel Human Rights Prize

2020 Václav Havel Prize awarded to Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul

The eighth Václav Havel Human Rights Prize – which honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights – has been awarded to Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul.

The 60,000-euro prize was presented at a special ceremony on the opening day of the spring plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), held in a “hybrid” format in Strasbourg.

Ms Alhathloul is one of the leaders of the Saudi feminist movement, having campaigned to end the male guardianship system, as well as the Saudi ban on women driving, and for greater protection for women facing abuse in the Kingdom. She spent 1001 days in prison as a result of her stand, and was only released in February 2020, though is still subject to house arrest and other restrictions in her home country.

Accepting the award on her behalf in a virtual address, Loujain’s sister Lina Alhathloul thanked the award committee: “International support is the only way we can expose the injustices in my country and protect the victims. Thank you for giving us the strength to continue our fight.”

She added: “Loujain sacrified herself to fight for a better life for Saudi women. Because of her activism, she was kidnapped, illegally imprisoned, brutally tortured, placed in solitary confinement for months, and now, sentenced as a terrorist. For years now, the Saudi regime has been trying to tarnish her image, to erase any support for her, and to make her forgotten. But the more time passes, the more Loujain proves to the world how incredibly brave, resilient and attached to her values she is.”

Presenting the award, PACE President Rik Daems, who chaired the selection panel, congratulated the winner. “Václav Havel continues to inspire us to dream big. And all three of our nominees have the courage, the passion, the energy and the determination to dream big. And to fight for their dreams of a better and more equal world. One where women are treated with dignity and respect.”

The two other shortlisted nominees were the nuns of Nepal’s Drukpa Order, a group of young Buddhist nuns who promote equality, sustainability and tolerance in their home villages in the Himalayas, and Congolese human rights activist Julienne Lusenge, who has been documenting sexual abuse and acts of violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both were awarded diplomas during the ceremony, which was delayed by several months due to the exceptional situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded each year by PACE, in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation, “to honour outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights in Europe and beyond”. It consists of a sum of 60,000 euros, a trophy and a diploma.

Since its creation, the Prize has been awarded in turn jointly to Ilham Tohti and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (2019), Oyub Titiev (2018), Murat Arslan (2017), Nadia Murad (2016), Ludmilla Alexeeva (2015), Anar Mammadli (2014) and Ales Bialiatski (2013).

Nominations are currently open for the 2021 Prize, and can be submitted until 30 June 2021 via this form on the website of the Parliamentary Assembly, signed by at least five sponsors.

Timetable for 2021

  • 15 January 2021: call for candidates;
  • 30 June 2021: deadline for reception of candidatures for the edition of the Prize 2021;
  • 27 September 2021 (date tbc): Award Ceremony of the 2021 Prize at the Council of Europe;
  • 29 September 2021 (date tbc): Conference in Prague in honour of the laureate of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize;

Submission of nominations

Nominations for the Prize should be addressed to the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly and be signed by at least five sponsors, other than the nominee, on the special form to be found at the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize website.

Nominations shall provide details of the nominee's work in the defence of human rights and specify the reasons why the nominee's work can be considered to be outstanding. Relevant supporting documents should be provided. Nominations should be submitted in either of the two official languages of the Council of Europe, English or French.

Who can be nominated?

Individuals or non-governmental institutions active in the defence of human rights can be nominated for the Prize.

The Selection Panel

The Selection Panel of the Prize is composed of the President of the Assembly (or a person designated by him/her) and six independent persons (who cannot be current members of the Assembly) with recognised moral standing in the field of human rights.

The Panel will examine the nominations, submit a shortlist of three nominees to the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly for information and, subsequently, designate the Prizewinner for the year in question.

Three Panel members are appointed by the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly and three Panel members by the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation. The six independent experts are appointed for a two-year period, renewable twice.

The Panel is chaired by the President of the Assembly or the person designated by him/her.

The Award Ceremony

The Prize is awarded at a ceremony which takes place in Strasbourg on the Monday of the Autumn Session of the Parliamentary Assembly, usually in late September or early October.

The name of the Prizewinner is announced by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly.

The former Czech First Lady, Dagmar Havlova, is invited to honour the ceremony with her presence.

Conference in honour of the Prizewinner

The Václav Havel Library will organise, at a later date, an international conference in Prague in honour of the Prizewinner.