The Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, Getachew Engida, awarded the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence to the two peace and human rights activists Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat from Mali and Francisco Javier Estévez Valencia from Chile during a ceremony held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 14 November 2014.
“The golden rule of conduct is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different points of vision.” Mahatma Gandhi
Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat (Mali) received the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize 2014 in recognition of his dedication and outstanding commitment to dialogue and non-violence as a means of resolving conflicts in society and to the cause of the struggle against social inequalities.
His commitment to the defence of human rights and peace began with the realization that the progress of his country, rich in spiritual values and cultural diversity, would only be possible by education of rural communities. Since, through his work as a civil society activist, Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat has helped to provide access to basic social services and education for disadvantaged groups including women, children and persons of slave descent. He has also been deeply committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in northern Mali between sedentary and nomadic populations and to end stigma against the Tuareg population.
In 1987, he founded the grassroots organization GARI (Groupement des artisans ruraux de Intadeyné – Group of Rural Artisans of Intadeyné), which establishes schools throughout the region as a way to open the horizons of marginalized Tuareg children. He has campaigned against stigma and discrimination linked to the slave caste identity and has helped communities to reconsider and redefine what it means to be Tuareg.
In 2006, he created TEMEDT, which develops multiple activities under his leadership to raise awareness of the inequalities among communities affected by slavery. These actions have reached large numbers and have directly helped to liberate and support dozens of people through the provision of legal advice to victims of slavery practices, training on anti-slavery legislation for magistrates and lobbying for legal reform to criminalize slavery practices.
While accepting the Prize, Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat stressed that the strength of his activism is based on the common action and commitment of many individuals and communities in northern Mali: his colleagues, including from the two grass-roots organizations GARI and TEMEDT, his family and all partners who have supported his work.
Francisco Javier Estévez Valencia (Chile) received the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize 2014 in recognition of his longstanding commitment and tireless efforts to promote respect for human rights, based on the principles of tolerance and non-violence, to build a more harmonious and inclusive society, ensuring peace and prosperity, and a world with equal opportunities for all.
Eminent civil society activist, historian and Professor at the University of Chile, Francisco Javier Estévez Valencia started his non-violent struggle for human rights and democracy during the years of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and became one of the well-known leaders of the democratic resistance of young Chileans.
After the return of democracy in Chile, he made substantial contributions to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as Vice-President of a major citizen campaign “Para Creer en Chile’”. For years he investigated and denounced human rights violations and worked for the preparation of the constitutional accusation of General Pinochet, which was rejected by the Parliament but taken into consideration during the legal proceedings in London.
In 1994, he founded the non-profit civil society organization Fundacíon Ideas (the Chilean Ideas Foundation). As its Executive Director, he has contributed tirelessly to building a culture of human rights, democracy and peace at the national, regional and international levels through education and awareness-raising activities and public campaigns which empower those who are not heard in their struggle for dignity and justice. As coordinator of the Cinta Amarilla citizen campaign he contributed to the abolition of the death penalty in Chile in 2001; and to the removal from public space of monuments symbolizing the military regime.
In his speech, Francisco Javier Estévez stressed the importance of solidarity and brotherhood in the struggle for freedom and equality in the world. “Brotherhood is a science, an art, and culture," he declared, explaining that “all those who suffer today from intolerance, discrimination and violence in all their forms must know that they are not alone, as also are those who are struggling in very difficult conditions because there is a very large community of people, citizen movements and institutions such as UNESCO, who will never abandon them, because they all share the same struggle and the same values”.
The Award ceremony was symbolically linked to the International Day for Tolerance, celebrated each year on 16 November, also anniversary date of the foundation of UNESCO, which begins celebrations marking its 70th anniversary this year.
The ceremony was an opportunity for UNESCO to recall the importance of tolerance as a fundamental principle of life in society, and as the basis for construction of peace, social harmony and human development.
In a video message screened during the Ceremony, Michelle Bachelet, President of the Republic of Chile, congratulated Francisco Javier Estévez Valencia and Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat on their designation as laureates of the Prize.
This year’s ceremony was also the first held in the absence of its benefactor, Madanjeet Singh, who sadly passed away in January 2013. Madanjeet Singh, a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, was a great humanist, writer and diplomat who devoted his life to deepening mutual understanding and peace across the world and particularly in South Asia. The creation of the Prize in 1995 marked the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, who was a great source of inspiration to Madanjeet Singh, who himself was a champion of peace and became a source of inspiration to many people of different cultures and religions. A video tribute was paid to the life of Madanjeet Singh during the ceremony, in the presence of Ms France Marquet, Director of the Madanjeet Singh Foundation, donor of the Prize.
To celebrate the International Day of Tolerance, a series of performances were given by 96 singers of the International Philharmonic Choir, UNESCO Artists for Peace, under the direction of their Conductor Mr Mustapha Kaïd.