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Guatemala: Chief of Anti-Graft Body, Ex-Prosecutor Win 'Alternative Nobel Prize'

  • Iván Velasquez is the current head of the U.N.’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

    Iván Velasquez is the current head of the U.N.’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). | Photo: CICIG

Published 24 September 2018
Opinion

Four awards were conferred to two anti-corruption activists, three human rights activists, a farmer, and agricultural scientists by the Right Livelihood Foundation on Monday.

Two anti-corruption officials, Thelma Aldana of Guatemala and Ivan Velasquez of Colombia, fighting graft in Guatemala won the 2018 Rights Livelihood Prize, also known as the “alternative Nobel prize” on Monday for their "innovative work in exposing abuse of power and prosecuting corruption, thus rebuilding people's trust in public institutions," the award jury said in a statement.

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Aldana was the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Guatemala and served as an attorney general until she stepped down in May. Velasquez is the current head of the U.N.’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The independent body of the United Nations has been tasked with prosecuting serious crimes in Guatemala since 2006. Since 2014, Aldana and Velasquez headed the CICIG. They have uncovered 60 criminal organizations in the notable “La Linea” corruption case which led to the arrest of the then Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and his deputy Roxanna Baldetti in 2015. There have been more than 300 convictions and 34 legal reforms related to the fight against corruption.

Current President Jimmy Morales and his family also came under investigation on multiple corruption charges. He has been accused of illicit campaign financing during his 2015 run for president. In retaliation, Morales said he would not renew CICIG’s mandate which ends in September 2019. He also banned Velasquez from re-entering the country for being "a threat to national security".

The United States which has been a strong supporter of CICIG in the past has turned over to Morales’ side and in May, the Trump administration placed a hold on U.S. funding to CICIG worth US$6 million.  

Commenting on the award, Velasquez wrote in a statement, "This prize comes at a particularly dramatic moment in the fight against impunity and corruption. It is very important because it will turn the eyes of the world to Guatemala, and hopefully also provide international solidarity with those who are committed to the transformation of the country."

Recipients of Right Livelihood Award, 2018. Facebook/Right Livelihood Award

Apart from Aldana and Velasquez, three jailed human rights activists from Saudi Arabia are also recipients of the prestigious award. Abdullah Hamid, Mohammad Fahad Qahtani and Waleed Abu Khair were jointly awarded a one million kronor ($113,400) cash award.

Qahtani and Hamid are founders of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known as HASEM, by its Arabic acronym. They were sentenced by Saudi authorities to 10 and 11 years in prison respectively for "providing inaccurate information to foreign media, founding and operating an unlicensed human rights organization, as well as other offenses".

Khair, a lawyer, and activist has been given a 15-year sentence for calling for reforms in the kingdom.

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The jury said in a statement, "The three laureates have challenged this authoritarian system through peaceful methods, calling for universal human rights, and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy."

"As a consequence of their courageous struggle for a more pluralistic and democratic society, the three men have been sentenced to between 10 and 15 years imprisonment and all are currently in jail. Their visionary and inclusive approach to shaping a positive future for their home country has been, and continues to be, a great source of inspiration for many people in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region," the jury added. 

Yacouba Sawadogo, a farmer from Burkina Faso is among this year’s recipients "for having succeeded in turning inhospitable desert land into forest and teaching farmers to restore their soils with an innovative idea." Australian agriculturist Tony Rinaudo is also receiving the prize for using innovative methods to combat the Sahel region’s deforestation and dehydration.

The Right Livelihood Awards was created in 1980 by Jacob von Uexkull who felt the need to honor efforts of the people being ignored by the Nobel prizes. Hence this award is widely known as the alternative Nobel prize. In past, it had been awarded to Edward Snowden, an NSA whistleblower; the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a U.K. based NGO working to abolish international arms trade; and the White Helmet, a Syrian rescue group helping victims of the civil war.

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