Joint Op-ed by Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier (December 1, 2016)


France and Germany honoured brave women and men who are fighting for the rights of others throughout the world.

Maria da Penha from Brazil has used a wheelchair since being attacked by her husband in the 1970s, and now campaigns tirelessly for the protection of women against domestic violence. Sunitha Krishnan from India is fighting forced prostitution and human trafficking in her country, where so many young women – and even girls - are being caught up in systemic prostitution. Jacqueline Moudeïna from Chad has been fighting for over fifteen years to bring Hissène Habré to justice for atrocities committed during his presidency. Before the Syrian conflict, Raed al-Saleh was a businessman who sold electrical equipment; he is now the head of Syria’s White Helmets, a group of volunteers who are risking their own lives to help to rescue people following air strikes and to rebuild destroyed infrastructure.

All these individuals have something in common: wherever they come from, whatever they have been through, they are dedicating their lives to others.

To pay tribute to the inspiring engagement of these brave women and men throughout the world, the two of us have decided to establish a Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. This week, we will award the prize for the first time. We will honour women and men who are showing great dedication in standing up for the rights of their fellow human beings. They often do so at significant personal risk and under difficult conditions. They deserve our thanks and support.

Protecting and promoting human rights is at the core of French and German foreign policy endeavours. Human rights constitute the foundation of peace and justice in our world. This is why we, as the international community, pledged to protect and promote these rights following the terrible world wars of the 20th century, undertaking to do so within the framework of the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Yet we now need to ensure that this great achievement is not called into question. We see the danger of erosion - in a world where an increasing number of governments are restricting public and individual freedoms in the name of security, political stability or cultural idiosyncrasies. We also see this happening in democracies, where journalists, lawyers and members of non-governmental organisations are being arrested, where people are tempted to build walls, even though history has taught us that walls never solve anything.

France and Germany stand firm.

On our many joint trips, we have both seen up close what it means when people are denied their fundamental rights. That is why we are taking resolute action – using the entire spectrum of foreign policy instruments available, from supporting local human rights defenders to strengthening democratic governance, from crisis prevention to post-conflict peacebuilding.

As Foreign Ministers, we will continue to work tirelessly every day, not only to break the silence but also to act effectively to prevent the violation of people’s fundamental freedoms. The fight for human rights must be conducted together and at all levels. The Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law reflects this.
On the basis of joint proposals from German and French missions abroad, this year’s Prize will be awarded to: Tahmina Rahman (Bangladesh), Aleh Hulak (Belarus), Maria da Penha (Brazil), Thun Saray (Cambodia), Maximilienne Ngo Mbe (Cameroun), Beverley K. Jacobs (Canada), Jacqueline Moudeïna (Chad), Wang Qiaoling (China), Montserrat Solano Carboni (Costa Rica), Mme Sunitha Krishnan (India), Mme Mary Lower (Ireland), Pietro Bartolo (Italy), Eva Abu Halaweh (Jordan), Sarah Belal (Pakistan), Valentina Cherevatenko (Russia), and the White Helmets (Syria).>]