What is The Digest of Human Rights Awards?
The number of international human rights awards has surged to over 170 with approximately half of the awards created in just the last 17 years. In order to assist the human rights world in finding and accessing all these awards True Heroes Films (THF) in Geneva has put together a unique Digest of international human rights awards. The Awards Digest is part of a larger THF project which foresees also a Digest of Laureates (winners of the awards included in the Award Digest). This phase is still under preparation and its progress is subject to funding.
A provisional version was put on-line in November 2013 – the current version (July 2017) is a greatly expanded and more accessible version. The website has more searcheable fields which allow users to narrow down their search. It is now also accessible from any device including mobile ones. This version has been made possible with financial support from Bread for the World in Germany and the Netherland’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva.
Much of the initial research was done by Johannes Thoolen in the context of writing an article on Human Rights Awards for the Special Issue of the OUP Journal of Human Rights Practice on ‘The Protection of Human Rights Defenders” in November 2013.
The awards digest covers only international and regional awards, meaning awards which aim to award people from every country in the world or that region. The Digest allows users to narrow down a search to regions.
Purely national awards are (not yet) covered. A problem remains that a few awards are ‘international’ in name but are given disproportionately to nationals of the country of the award giver.
This remains a difficult topic and will always call for some degree of judgment call. Some of the considerations:
Many awards do not use the word ‘human rights’ in their (short) name. Instead, their name reflects other elements, such as the name of an inspirational figure who is celebrated through the award (e.g. Mandela, Alison des Forges, Havel, Edelstam, Mignone, Sakharov or Martin Ennals), the name of the founder/funder of the award (e.g. Nobel, Sagan, Dodd, Hilton, Magsaysay) or the name of the issuing organization (e.g. Council of Europe, United Nations, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Front Line). The term ‘human rights defender’ (HRD) starts to be used in the late-1980s and many recent awards carry this term.
Quite a few awards whose main stated goal is not ‘human rights’ as such, but e.g. ‘peace’, ‘activism’, ‘freedom’, ‘refugees’ or ‘humanitarian action’ are given so often to human rights defenders or their organisations that they should be included. Think of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sydney Peace Prize or the Hilton Humanitarian Award to mention just a few. THF is working hard on the second phase, the Digest of Laureates (winners of the awards in the Awards Digest), but the work is not yet completed and requires further funding. Still, some 2000 names of Laureates have already been gathered. Once this second digest is completed and linked, it should be easier for the public to judge the extent to which an award is a ‘true’ human rights award as the kind of recipients is an important indicator. E.g. the (ceased) Gaddafi Human Rights award was awarded mostly to political figures, while some of the more mainstream awards tend to honor mostly politicians or donors.
In certain fields (such as film, literature, academia) there are many awards with human rights in the title or as a specific aim. Due to the sheer number and (often) paucity of information about them, these awards are not covered exhaustively (although this may change in the future). Scholarships or fellowships presented as awards are also not (yet) included.
The creation of a new award tends to be announced with pomp, but when it ceases to exist there is rarely a public statement. The Digest still includes those but mentions that they have ceased.
Information on Award givers
Many awards are embedded in the daily outreach work of activist human rights organizations (NGOs). However, a surprising number of award-giving entities turn out to be special foundations, universities, ministries of foreign affairs, intergovernmental bodies or cities. Links to the websites of the award givers are routinely provided. Often there is little information published on the (internal) decision-making process (e.g., who makes or vets nominations, who makes the final decision, and the composition of the jury, if any). The Digest therefore does not go into this. However, where possible the Digest tries to provide searchable information on whether public nominations are accepted, whether there is a monetary component and – if possible – the deadline for submissions. See also the explanation given for the relevant fields.
Most awards state publicly one or more of the following purposes:
- Protection of HRDs;
- Recognition (moral support);
- Material support (such as: cash, lobbying, introduction to decision makers, paid travel, access to project funding, training);
- Promotion of a specific cause. To help identify the latter the Digest has a searchable field called THEMES, which helps to narrow down the search.
In addition award givers also want sometimes to keep alive the memory of the founder, honor an inspiring human rights hero, or in a few cases, combine the award with a fundraising drive.
Many awards are honorary; only half the awards state or imply that there is any monetary component and an exact amount is often missing. The Digest has the possibility to limit searches to awards that come with a monetary component but this is dependent on the input by the award givers.
Warnings and Disclaimers
- From the two Digests combined – with some two thousand winners – THF will in the future create a group of prominent HRDs who could be role models for the media and the public at large. This is crucial as most people use stories of individual human rights defenders as their entry point into human rights. However, the argument cannot be reversed to imply that only those who get awards are worthy of support. There are simply not enough awards in the world to cover all deserving cases!
- The Digest remains a work in progress and lacunae will have to be filled with the assistance of the award-givers and feedback from users. One of the goals of getting the Digest on-line is to gradually improve this information.
- THF has made every effort to ensure that the information contained in the Digest is correct and up-to date. We have based ourselves first of all on publicly available sources (websites, publications) and on information received from individuals working for the award givers. THF and the authors are not responsible for any errors that have been provided by third parties.
- If you are of the opinion that an international award is missing, please draw our attention to it and provide the essential information needed. If you think that information contained in the current Digest is missing, out-of-date or incorrect, please send the correct information to THF firstname.lastname@example.org stating why the new information is more correct or complete, and giving your name and function in relation to the award in question.