UNITED NATIONS: Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student activist, on Tuesday received the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Prize, through a representative, at the General Assembly’s commemorative meeting to mark the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Malala was not present at the impressive ceremony because of commitments at her school in Birmingham, England, where she now resides.
The prestigious award was accepted, on her behalf, by the Coordinator of Malala Fund for Girls’ Education, Shiza Shahid, amid applause from diplomats, United Nations(UN) officials, human rights activists and civil society representatives in the jampacked ECOSOC chamber.
South Africa’s late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and former US President Jimmy Carter are among the eminent recipients of the prize, which is bestowed every five years.
In 2008, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was posthumously conferred the prize for her commitment to women’s rights and strengthening democracy.
Malala was honored for speaking out on girls’ crucial right to education, women’s empowerment and the links between the two. Despite an assassination attempt in 2012, the citation said she continued to speak out on behalf of the rights of girls and women.
“Malala’s courage, commitment and determination, and more so, her passion for human rights at a tender age makes us proud of her,” Pakistan’s delegate to the event Diyar Khan said in brief remarks, while thanking the UN for recognizing her contribution to promoting girls education and honoring her courage and sacrifice.
“We’re grateful to the international community for the support to the Malala Fund for Girls’ Education, and hope it would advance the cause of literacy in my country and around the world,” Khan added.
Other recipients at Tuesday’s event were Biram Dah Abeid of Mauritania, a son of freed slaves who works to eradicate the heinous slavery; Hiljmnijeta Apuk of Kosovo, a campaigner for the rights of people with disproportional restricted growth; Liisa Kauppinen of Finland, the president emeritus of the World Federation of the Deaf and Khadija Ryadi, former president of the Morocco Association for Human Rights. Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice also received a prize, as a judicial body.
Presenting the prizes, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that the walk on the road of respect for human rights should be a way of life.
Extolling the virtues of all human rights defenders, he honored the legacy and life of Nelson Mandela. “We are in this together and we can only succeed together if we are united in the pursuit of a life of dignity for all,” he said.
Michel Tommo Monthe, Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of General Assembly President John Ashe, said:“We cannot stand by idly or look away when we see oppression and discrimination.”
Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, President of the UN Human Rights Council, said the achievements realized in the field of human rights would not have been possible were it not for the efforts of those who raised their voice to denounce abuses and injustice.
Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said since the Declaration had been adopted, the human rights mechanism had grown stronger, as exemplified by the growing number of treaties and protocols, their ratification and special mandate holders.
On July 12, Malala celebrated her 16th birthday with a passionate speech at the UN headquarters, in which she said education can change the world.
“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution,” she told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and about 1,000 youth leaders from over 100 countries attending an international Youth Assembly at the UN.
Malala, who was also nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, was given the European Union’s Sakharov human rights prize at a ceremony held on World Children’s Day last week.
The UN speech was her first public address after she was gunned down while returning from her school. She has been credited with bringing the issue of women’s education to global attention.
“They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed and out of that silence came thousands of voices,” Malala said.
“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died.
Strength, power and courage was born,” she stated.
A day after she was shot, a bullet which hit Malala’s skull was removed by surgeons in Peshawar. She was later transferred to a military hospital in Rawalpindi for more specialist treatment.
She is currently living in Britain, where she underwent successful surgery on her skull and ear. Surgeons replaced part of Malala’s skull with a titanium plate and inserted a cochlear implant in her left ear to restore her hearing. PNA