Speech by Director-General Petra Sigmund at the awarding of the “Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law”, March 28th, 2022

28.03.2022 - Speech

The 2022 prize was awarded to activist May Sabe Phyu of Myanmar in a ceremony that took place in New York City, due to the recipient's current residency

As delivered.

Today’s ceremony follows a longstanding and internationally renowned tradition to annually award the Franco-German Award for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. It serves to recognize human rights defenders, journalists or lawyers who tirelessly stand up for human rights and the rule of law, day after day.

What first comes to mind today are the countless women and men bravely fighting for human rights in Ukraine in the face of Russia’s brutal aggression. I would like to warmly welcome Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN, His Excellency Sergey Kyslytsya. Thank you for being with us tonight! Today, we honour and pay tribute to all human rights defenders in Ukraine, too!

In many circumstances, these ceremonies take place in the price laureate’s country, in the presence of governmental representatives and numerous members of the civil society, including human rights groups and activists. But unfortunately things are different in this case and far away from the ordinary. Why?

In the beginning of this year, France and Germany decided together to award the Franco-German Award for Human Rights and the Rule of Law to Daw May Sabe Phyu, a national of Myanmar. We are all aware what has happened since 1 February last year when the military arbitrarily and illegally seized power from a democratically elected government and turned the country into a place of violence and oppression.

Thousands of Myanmar citizens fled the country because of their love for democracy, freedom and human rights. One of them is Daw May Sabe Phyu. That’s why we are thousands of miles away from Yangon on the other side of the world, here in this place.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

More than one year after the military coup, thousands of people have lost their lives and homes due to the countrywide violence by Myanmar’s security forces. Democracy has been overturned, civil society has been suppressed, freedoms have vanished and military dictatorship has taken over.

The situation is devastating and continues to deteriorate.

But instead of giving up, many people in Myanmar are resisting inside and outside the country, showing that the love of democracy and freedom cannot be erased by sheer force. One of them is Daw May Sabe Phyu.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is the intention of this Human Rights Award to honour those who cannot and may not be silenced, the ones that continue to defend human rights, even at great personal risk and hardship.

Dear Daw Phyu,

I am deeply touched to honour you today on behalf of the German and French governments with this award. Your work, your dedication and your activism are truly outstanding and inspiring - not only to me, but also to my international colleagues and - most of all - to the people in Myanmar.

Through the award, we recognize your role as a passionate and committed advocate for women's rights and equality who actively works in the areas of violence prevention, legal reform, and women's engagement in peacebuilding. Your determination to push for policy change, even in the wake of the military coup of Feb. 01, 2021, inspires others to follow your example and work for every women's right to live in peace.

As the head of the Gender Equality Network (GEN) you bring together more than 130 civil society organizations thus broadening the efforts in Myanmar to improve women’s rights and gender equality. Moreover, as a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network you contributed to the strengthening of ethnic minorities’ rights as well. You give a voice to those who are often not heard and seen. You speak up about the challenges that your country faces. All with a view to changing things for the better.

Let me conclude by expressing that we will continue to support the people of Myanmar. We will continue to support national and international efforts to resolve the conflict in your country by peaceful means. Myanmar must, and will one day, return to the path of Democracy.

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