Sean Penn presents human rights award in Dublin

Pakistani women’s group win Front Line Defenders Award for work in tribal region

Actor and founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organisation Sean Penn presents the  2014 Front Line Defenders Award to Noozia Faridi of women’s rights group SAWERA  in Dublin’s City Hall. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Actor and founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organisation Sean Penn presents the 2014 Front Line Defenders Award to Noozia Faridi of women’s rights group SAWERA in Dublin’s City Hall. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Dublin’s City Hall erupted in cheers and claps this morning as actor Sean Penn presented the award for the top human rights defender to a Pakistani women’s group.

Penn said he saluted the courage and commitment of the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA) which won this year’s Front Line Defenders Award in recognition of its work to help women survive in the tribal region of Pakistan.

The group faced the threats of acid attacks, bullets and bombings every day, Penn said.

Front Line Defenders received 110 nominations from 51 countries. Penn, who is founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organisation said he was in awe of the work by all the nominees. “The quiet dignity and courage of ordinary people shown in desperate circumstances,” he said. “I am humbled.”

Noorzia Afridi accepted the award on behalf of SAWERA and her sister Farida Afridi, who was the co-founder of the group, said she was grateful for the recognition of the hard work by the organisation.

“We have all suffered greatly but together we have been able to work for the benefit of humanity,” she said. “Hope always forces you to survive.”

The 25-year-old said her sister, Farida, was shot dead by militants in her own home in 2012 following threats to stop her work helping women.

“She dedicated her life to educate girls, empower women and help them raise their voices,” she said.

The crowd stood for a minute’s silence during the ceremony to pay tribute to the memory of Ms Afridi’s sister.

Ms Afridi said the group, who have had their office bombed, operated in the most hostile zone of a tribal region known for its lawlessness and community conflicts.

“People have lost their homes, jobs and had to flee the area from fear of militants’ brutalities,” she said.

“I hope the day is no longer too far distant when the poor of our communities will be able to exercise and enjoy their basic human rights.” More than 1300 schools had been destroyed, she said.

They have implemented a range of projects in education and business to allow women to live in dignity. “To help women to adopt practices that will enable them to earn money,” she said.

Despite the tragedy, loss and attacks against the organisation, they would continue to fight for women rights, she said. “We are still committed and we have not lost our courage,” she said.

“We along with our families have sacrificed the present for the future of those deprived of their basic human rights,” she said “If they kill one, a thousand will arise.”

Front Line Defenders’ chairman and co-founder Denis O’Brien opened the ceremony and paid tribute to all the human rights activists nominated for their “breath-taking bravery” who work peacefully to defend others.

“As we celebrate their achievements, we also need to move beyond the warm glow of satisfaction and remember that all these people have paid a very high price for their principles,” he said.

The telecoms and media entrepreneur said it was difficult to imagine how they continued in the face of deadly daily risks.

Front Line executive director Mary Lawlor said women played a crucial role fighting for human rights and were often the targets from oppressors.

The other five finalists included Berta Caceres from the Honduras, Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, Lydia Mukami from Kenya, Mohamed Al Roken from UAE amd Adilur Rahman Khan from Bangladesh.

The annual award is given one person each year who risk their own lives and made an exceptional contribution to the cause of human rights.