French human rights advocate receives UNESCO prize for lifetime’s work

19 November 2008

One of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 60 years ago will receive a prestigious prize in recognition of his life-long advocacy for a culture of rights around the world, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced today.

Stéphane Hessel of France has been awarded the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights after he was selected by an international jury that considered 36 separate nominations.

The jury cited “the life-long commitment and extraordinary contribution of Stéphane Hessel to the promotion of a culture of human rights, justice and dignity,” according to a press release issued today in Paris by UNESCO.

Born in 1917, Mr. Hessel served with the French Resistance during World War II before he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps. He escaped while he was being transferred to another camp.

After the war ended, Mr. Hessel helped draft the UDHR in 1948 and also held a number of important French diplomatic posts, including at UN Headquarters in New York.

Later he created the Association for Training of African and Malagasy Workers (AFTAM) in France, served on the French Higher Council for Integration and held posts with the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and the French Higher Council for International Cooperation.

His work continued beyond the regular retirement age. In 1996, at almost 80 years of age, he acted as a mediator during the occupation of a Parisian church by illegal immigrants.

Mr. Hessel will receive $25,000 and a certificate when the award is presented to him at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters on 10 December, the anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR.

The UNESCO/Bilbao Prize is given out every two years and is funded by a donation from the city of Bilbao (part of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, Spain). It succeeds the UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education that was set up 30 years ago.

This year the jury gave an honourable mention to the international movement known as ATD Fourth World. Founded in 1957 by Father Joseph Wresinki, it has branches in 30 countries around the globe and works to support the most disadvantaged and socially excluded members of society. Its work includes assisting the poorest of the poor with administrative paperwork and developing pilot projects to give everyone access to basic rights.


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