Belgian rights defender, Pakistani philanthropist win UN prize for non-violence

20 October 2009
Mahatma Gandhi

A Belgian human rights defender and a Pakistani philanthropist were today awarded a prestigious United Nations prize that draws its inspiration from the life of Mahatma Gandhi for their work in promoting tolerance and non-violence.

François Houtart of Belgium and Abdul Sattar Edhi of Pakistan were awarded the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-Madanjeet Singh Prize on the unanimous recommendation of an international jury to UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. They will share the $100,000 prizemoney and receive the award on 16 November, the International Day for Tolerance.

Dedicated to advancing tolerance in the arts, education, culture, science and communications, the prize was created in 1995 on the 125th anniversary of the birth of the great Indian apostle of non-violence thanks to the generosity of Indian writer and diplomat Madanjeet Singh, who is also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

It is awarded every two years to individuals or institutions for outstanding contributions towards its goals. Previous laureates include Myanmar Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen.

Mr. Houtart, an ardent promoter of North-South cooperation and founder of the Tri-Continental Centre (CETRI), a non-governmental organization (NGO) renowned for its work on development issues, was honoured for his life-long devotion to world peace, intercultural dialogue, human rights and promotion of tolerance. A life-long human rights defender, he has contributed significantly to advancing inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue.

Mr. Edhi, one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan through his Edhi Foundation, a non-profit social welfare programme with over 300 centres, received the accolade for life-long efforts to improve the conditions of the most disadvantaged groups in Pakistan and South Asia, and promote human dignity, human rights, mutual respect and tolerance.

His foundation provides the needy with medical aid, family planning, emergency assistance and education, and sets up maternity homes, mental asylums, homes for the physically handicapped, blood banks and orphanages, among other services.

Mr. Matsuura also decided to award two honorary mentions: to the Saint Petersburg Government Programme on Tolerance in Russia for its efforts to inculcate mutual respect and tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, and eradicate all forms of discrimination; and to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, United Kingdom, for commemorating millions of enslaved Africans and fighting against legacies of slavery such as racism, discrimination, inequalities, injustice and exploitation.


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