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Bangladeshi group, Sri Lankan get alternate Nobel Prize

By Alfred de Tavares, IANS

Stockholm : Christopher Weeramantry, a renowned legal scholar of Sri Lanka, and Grameen Shakti of Bangladesh, a leading group in solar energy enterprise, share the 2007 Right Livelihood Award of Swedish Kroner 2 million (approx $310,000) with two other recipients, who show that there exist practical solutions to pressing global challenges.

Christopher Weeramantry, a world-renowned legal scholar, best known for his landmark International Court opinion on the threat and use of nuclear weapons, has been honoured for “his lifetime of groundbreaking work to strengthen and expand the rule of international law”.

The Grameen Shakti company, founded by Nobel Laureate Mohammed Yunus, has shown that solar energy applications can be scaled up massively and rapidly to provide an affordable and climate-friendly energy option for the rural poor and is thus commended “for bringing sustainable light and power to thousands of Bangladeshi villages, promoting health, education and productivity”.

The other two recipients are Dekha Ibrahim Abdi of Kenya and Percy and Louise Schmeiser of Canada.

Abdi has engaged in effective peace work and conflict resolution in many of the world’s most divided countries. The jury commends her “for showing in diverse ethnic and cultural situations how religious and other differences can be reconciled, even after violent conflict, and knitted together through a cooperative process that leads to peace and development”.

The Schmeisers have given the world a wake-up call about the dangers to farmers and biodiversity everywhere from the growing dominance and market aggression of companies engaged in the genetic engineering of crops. The jury honours the Schmeisers “for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers’ rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws”.

Founder of the awards, Jakob von Uexkull told IANS after the awards were announced: “The 2007 Right Livelihood Award recipients highlight existing solutions for today’s world: Dekha Ibrahim Abdi and Christopher Weeramantry demonstrate how war and terror can be overcome by peace-building and the rule of international law.

“The Schmeisers and Grameen Shakti show us how to protect two essential services of our global ecosystem: our agricultural resources and our global climate.”

The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 to honour and support those “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”.

It has become widely known as the ‘Alternate Nobel Prize’ and there are now 123 laureates from 56 countries. Presented annually in Stockholm at a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament, the Right Livelihood Award is usually shared by four recipients.

One of them may receive an honorary award, given to a person or group whose work the jury wishes to recognise but who is not primarily in need of monetary support. The others share the prize money of 2,000,000 Swedish kronor. The prize money is for ongoing successful work, never for personal use.

The Right Livelihood Award is widely recognised as the world’s premier award for personal courage and social transformation. Besides the financial support, it enables its recipients to reach out to an international audience that otherwise might not have heard of them. Often, the award also gives crucial protection against repression. For the laureates, the award has opened many doors, including prison doors.

Unlike the Nobel Prizes (for Physics, Medicine, Literature, etc.), the Right Livelihood Award has no categories. It recognises that, in striving to meet the human challenges of today’s world, the most inspiring and remarkable work often defies any standard classification. For example, people who start out with an environmental goal frequently find themselves drawn into issues of health, human rights and/or social justice. Their work becomes a holistic response to community needs, so that sectoral categories lose their meaning.