'Alternative Nobel Prize' awarded to 4 global activists

This year's Right Livelihood Awards recipients have fought for greater inclusion for those with disabilities, defended human and health rights, as well as sought to expose governmental corruption.

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation announced the three recipients of its 2017 prize on Tuesday in Stockholm: Ethiopian lawyer Yetnebersh Nigussie, Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova and Indian attorney Colin Gonsalves were honored for their work "offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems." US attorney Robert Bilott received an honorary mention. 

The four awardees were selected from a pool of 102 nominations from 51 different countries. An award ceremony will take place on December 1. Niguissie, Ismayilova and Gonsalves will share a prize of 3 million Swedish kronor (around $371,000, €314,000).

Fighting discrimination in Ethiopia

Nigussie, who has been blind since the age of five, was one of the first three blind female law students in her homeland of Ethiopia. Through her legal activism, the 35-year-old has fought for the rights of the disabled, women and young people to ensure that "no one is left behind." She co-founded the Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development in 2005, which promotes equal access for the people, and she currently works at the international organization fighting world blindness, Light for the World.

Read more: Disability advocate Yetnebersh Nigussie receives Right Livelihood Award

Äthiopien Gewinnerin des alternativen Nobelpreises, Yetnebersh Nigussie

Nigussie has fought for better inclusion for the disabled and blind, both in Ethiopia and worldwide

Unearthing government corruption

A crusader for good governance in her homeland of Azerbaijan, investigative journalist Ismayilova spent 18 months in prison after being sentenced in 2015 for a slew of alleged crimes including tax evasion, embezzlement and running an illegal business. However, those activities are precisely the focus of her journalism career. The 41-year-old has rubbed Azerbaijani authorities the wrong way on multiple occasions with her reports on backroom deals and governmental corruption involving the family of President Illham Aliyev. Despite constant harassment she continues to push for accountability and transparency in the oil-rich former Soviet state.

Khadija Ismayilwa

Ismayilova was jailed for 18 months before her sentence was shortened

Human rights network

The engineer-turned-lawyer Colin Gonsalves founded the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) in India in 1983. The network has over 200 domestic centers and fights for the rights of the most vulnerable in Indian society, including ethnic and religious minorities. In 2001, Gonsalves helped bring about a Supreme Court ruling that subsidized grain for over 400 million people in a country where food insecurity remains an ongoing struggle. 

Colin Gonsalves

Gonsalves legal work has set precedents in India

Protecting people's health

Robert Bilott has dedicated his legal career to strengthening environmental law and achieving justice for American citizens affected by corporate chemical pollution. The attorney represented 70,000 Americans in a class-action lawsuit, in which he took on chemical producer DuPont for the company's contamination of drinking water in the Appalachian state of West Virginia. The Right Livelihood Foundation hailed the 52-year-old for his work to prevent environmental regulation from getting "watered down." 

Audios and videos on the topic

Aserbaidschan inhaftiert Regimekritikerin Khadija Ismajilowa
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World | 04.09.2015

Baku backfire

The Right Livelihood Award is nicknamed the "alternative Nobel Prize." It was created in 1980 by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull to honor individuals whose work was being overlooked by the Nobel committee. 


1980: Hassan Fathy

The very first Right Livelihood Award went to Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (right, next to Jakob von Uexkull, who established the prize). He showed how to build for the poor and teach people to build for themselves. Stephen Gaskin, founder of the non-profit Plenty International relief agency, was chosen for "caring, sharing and acting with and on behalf of those in need at home and abroad."


1982: Petra Kelly

Petra Kelly, one of the founders of Germany's Green Party, was the first female laureate. She received the award for "forging and implementing a new vision uniting ecological concerns with disarmament, social justice and human rights." Co-recipients: the Participatory Institute for Development Alternatives, Sir George Trevelyan, Eric Dammann and Anwar Fazal.


1987: Frances Moore Lappe

The jury chose US researcher Frances Moore Lappe of the Institute for Food and Development Policy because she has helped people understand that "all we waste is a sin." The other laureates: Johan Galtung, the Chipko movement, Mordechai Vanunu and German physicist Hans-Peter Dürr of the Global Challenges Network.


1994: Astrid Lindgren

The Swedish author, beloved around the world for her children's books, was handed the award for" her unique authorship dedicated to the rights of children and respect for their individuality." Servol, Hanumappa Sudarshan and Ken Saro-Wiwa also won the 1994 prize for their dedication in their various fields.


1996: Georgos Vithoulkas

The 1996 award went to Greek teacher and practitioner of homeopathy, Georgos Vithoulkas, for his "outstanding contribution to the revival of homeopathic knowledge and the training of homeopaths to the highest standards." US economist Herman Daly and the committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia and the People's Science movement of Kerala were also recipients that year.


2002: Martin Green

Australian professor Martin Green received the award for his "dedication and outstanding success in the harnessing of solar energy, the key technological challenge of our age." Burundi's Centre Jeunes Kamenge, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation from Sweden and Martin Almada, a human rights activist from Paraguay, completed the line-up that year.


2004: Bianca Jagger

Alongside Argentinian Raul Montenegro, Swami Agnivesh and the Memorial Society, Bianca Jagger won the right Livelihood Award in 2004. The Nicaraguan-born human rights advocate was honored for "her dedicated commitment and campaigning for human rights, social justice and environmental protection."


2009: David Suzuki

The jury awarded Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki the prize for his advocacy of the "socially responsible use of science" and for helping raise awareness about the "perils of climate change and building public support for policies to address it." The other laureates were Congolese biologist Rene Ngongo, New Zealand peace educator Alyn Ware and Australian obstetrician Catherine Hamlin.


2014: Edward Snowden

Three years ago, American former CIA employee Edward Snowden won the award "for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights." The international jury also chose Alan Rusbridger, Asma Jahangir, Bill McKibben and Basil Fernando as recipients.


2016: Cumhuriyet

The Turkish daily Cumhuriyet won the award for its "fearless investigative journalism and commitment to freedom of expression in the face of oppression, censorship, imprisonment and death threats." The Syrian Civil Defense, Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina and Egyptian feminist Mozn Hassan with the Nazra for Feminist Studies organiszation were also laureates last year.

cmb/se (dpa, epd)

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