The European Parliament supports human rights

The respect for human rights is one of the European Union's fundamental values. Any violation of these rights affects the democratic principles upon which our society is founded, whether they take place within or outside the EU.  The European Parliament fights such violations through legislative action, including election observation, monthly human rights debates in Strasbourg and by enshrining human rights in its external trade agreements.

The European Parliament also supports human rights through the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, established in 1988.  The prize is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause.

2019 Sakharov Prize finalists

1. Marielle Franco, Chief Raoni and Claudelice Silva dos Santos 2. Ilham Tohti 3. The Restorers

Andrei Sakharov

Marielle Franco

Marielle Franco was a Brazilian politician, feminist and human rights defender. A black bisexual activist, she fought for the rights of women, young black people, favela residents and LGBTI people in Brazil until she was brutally murdered in March 2018, aged 38.
Franco was born and raised in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. After earning a Master's in Public Administration from the Fluminense Federal University, she served as a city councillor in the Municipal Chamber of Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) from January 2017 onwards.

Franco was an outspoken critic of police brutality and extrajudicial killings. She frequently reported extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed by police officers and state security forces. Shortly before she was killed, Franco was tasked with monitoring federal intervention in public security in Rio de Janeiro.

On 14 March 2018, while in the back seat of a car after delivering a speech in Rio de Janeiro, Franco was shot multiple times and killed by two men in another vehicle. Her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, was also killed. In March 2019, two former police officers were arrested and charged with her murder.

Although LGBTI rights in Brazil are among the most advanced in Latin America and the world, LGBTI people having had marriage rights nationwide since May 2013, the situation has worsened drastically in recent times, as evidenced in various reports. At least 420 people in the LGBTI community in Brazil died as a result of homicide or suicide fuelled by homophobia and hate crimes in 2018, according to the Gay Group of Bahia (GGB) - one of the longest-established LGBTI associations in the country. According to their data, since 2011 there has been a significant increase in the number of LGBTI deaths due to discrimination. In that year, 130 deaths were recorded, compared to 187 in 2008. In 2017, the figure more than tripled to 445 deaths.

Chief Raoni

Raoni Metuktire (born ca. 1930), also known as Chief Raoni or Ropni, is a Native Brazilian leader and environmentalist. One of the great leaders of the nomadic Kayapo people from the heart of the Amazon, he has become an emblematic figure in the fight against deforestation.

The name Raoni is associated with the mystery and power of the Kayapo people. Raoni was born in a village called Krajmopyjakare, now known as Kapôt, in the heart of Mato Grosso state. When he was 15 years old, Raoni started wearing a labret, an ornamental disk worn by warriors on their lower lip to show that they are ready to die for their land. The disk is gradually increased in size, reaching its final dimensions after four months.

This charismatic leader has been crusading for four decades to save his homeland, the Amazon rainforest. Raoni became famous after Belgian filmmaker Jean Pierre Dutilleux made a documentary about him, entitled Raoni.

In 1989 Raoni, joined by singer Sting, left Brazil for the first time to make a plea for help. He delivered a wake-up call: deforestation was not only destroying the last remaining Indian tribes, but jeopardising the future of people all over the world. 'We all breathe one only air, we all drink one only water, we all live on one only earth. We must all protect it.' Thanks to his campaign, Raoni achieved his aim in 1993: one of the largest tropical forest reservations was created, spanning the Mato Grosso and Pará states.

In 2009 Raoni left his reservation once more. The territories he had fought so hard for were once again threatened by the Belo Monte Dam project. Raoni decided to launch a final campaign, publishing an international petition in seven languages against the proposed project on his official website.

Beyond the Amazonia, Raoni is a living symbol of the last tribes' fight to protect their culture, which is directly connected to nature itself: 'a fight for life'. He has met world leaders, but has retained his humility and still lives in a hut with very few possessions.

Claudelice dos Santos

Claudelice Silva dos Santos, a Brazilian environmentalist and human rights defender from Pará, became an activist after her brother and sister-in-law were killed for their efforts to combat illegal logging and deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. Santos herself has fought against illegal loggers, ranchers and coal producers operating in the Amazon.

'We want to say to the world, "You need to pay attention to this"', Santos says. 'It's unacceptable for people to be assassinated for defending human rights and for defending a public good, the environment.'

Santos's relatives were among the more than 1 500 people across 50 countries murdered for protecting land, water, forests and other natural resources between 2002 and 2017. The annual death toll doubled over that 15-year period and the killings tended to take place in countries with high levels of corruption and weak rule of law, according to the findings of a study published in Nature Sustainability.

Brazil is among the deadliest countries in the world for environmental defenders and activists. According to a Global Witness report, the data on killings may represent an underestimate, especially in the vast rural areas of Brazil, where access to transport infrastructure is limited.

Ilhan Tohti

Ilham Tohti is a renowned Uyghur human rights defender, economics professor and advocate of the rights of China's Uyghur minority. For over two decades, he has worked tirelessly to foster dialogue and understanding between Uyghurs and Chinese people. Tohti was sentenced to life in prison in September 2014 for his activism following a two-day show trial. He remains a voice of moderation and reconciliation in spite of what he has suffered.

Tohti is known for his research on Uyghur-Han relations and as a vocal advocate of the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China. He was also the host of Uyghur Online, a website that discusses Uyghur issues. Via this platform, Ilham Tohti regularly criticised the exclusion of China's Uyghur population from Chinese development, and encouraged greater awareness of the status and treatment of the Uyghur community in Chinese society. For these actions, he was declared a 'separatist' by the Chinese state and ultimately sentenced to life in prison.

For his work in the face of adversity, Tohti was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award (2014), the Martin Ennals Award (2016) and the Liberal International Prize for Freedom (2017), and has been nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Uyghur people have been subjected to unparalleled repression by the Chinese Government in recent years as a result of their unique ethnic identity and religious beliefs. Since April 2017, over one million innocent Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained in a network of internment camps, where they are forced to renounce their ethnic identity and religious beliefs and swear loyalty to the Chinese Government.

Ilham Tohti's case touches on crucial international issues and human rights concerns: the fostering of moderate Islamic values in the face of state-directed religious repression; efforts to open lines of dialogue between a Muslim minority and a non-Muslim majority population; and the suppression of non-violent dissent by an authoritarian state.

The Restorers

The Restorers is a group of Kenyan teenagers who are tackling female genital mutilation (FGM) with an app called i-Cut. The students, Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Purity Achieng, Mascrine Atieno and Ivy Akinyi, have named themselves 'The Restorers' because they want to restore hope to girls who no longer have any.

The i-Cut app enables young woman to seek medical and legal aid before or after forcibly undergoing FGM. The app's interface has five different buttons with the following options: 'help', 'rescue', 'report', 'information on FGM' and 'donate and feedback'. The first three options allow girls to seek immediate help, find a rescue centre or report the procedure to the authorities in countries where the practice is illegal. i-Cut was a finalist in the 2017 Technovation Challenge which seeks to encourage the involvement of women in tech.

Despite international recognition as a human rights violation, which comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organisation, FGM has been performed on more than 200 million girls and women alive today, including 500 000 in Europe. Each year, more than three million girls worldwide are at risk of undergoing FGM: a rate of seven girls per minute, with most girls cut before the age of 15.

FGM can lead to serious health complications and even death. Girls subjected to FGM are also at increased risk of becoming child brides and dropping out of school, undermining their ability to build a better future for themselves and their communities. An alarming trend in some countries is the medicalisation of FGM, in which the procedure is carried out by a healthcare provider. This not only violates medical ethics, but also risks legitimising the practice and giving the impression that it is without health consequences.

Global efforts have accelerated progress towards eliminating FGM. Today, a girl is about one third less likely to be cut than she was 30 years ago. Still, sustaining these achievements in the face of population growth presents a considerable challenge. 

How does the European Parliament support human rights?

In addition to the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament also supports human rights through concrete political and legislative action.



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Sakharov Prize 2019