2007-12-14 Sarah Elzas
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This year's Laureate of Sakharov prize

Salih Mahmoud OsmanSalih Mahmoud Osman
Each December, on the day after the International Day of Human Rights – the European Parliament awards its Sakharov prize for freedom of thought. It’s the Parliament’s top human rights award, named after Andrei Sakharov, a Russian physicist who spoke out against nuclear proliferation and worked against human rights abuses in the former Soviet Union. Radio France International’s Sarah Elzas was in Strasbourg this week to meet the 2007 winner.

Salih Mahmoud Osman is a Sudanese lawyer, and this year’s winner of the Sakharov prize, the European Parliament’s top human rights award

“I am a native of Darfur. I have been a victim of detention and torture, because of my work.”

Osman has helped defend victims of human rights abuses in Sudan. He’s been an opposition member of parliament since 2005.

Andrei SakharovAndrei Sakharov
Darfur, where he’s from, is the region in western Sudan where Government-backed militias have been burning villages and killing civilians- in an inter-ethnic conflict that has created a massive humanitarian crisis- with over four million people forced into refugee camps throughout the region.

The European Parliament wanted to give Osman the Sakharov prize to recognize his human rights work—but they also wanted to do it to make a statement about Darfur. José Ribeiro e Castro is an MEP from Portugal, who was part of a delegation that went to the region last summer-

“During the visit what could we do more to help the situation there- and it came to our minds that it would be a good idea to find someone who would be a candidate for the Sakharov prize this year. We regard Salih Mahmud Osman as the spokesperson as the Darfur people, and we want the people to be heard both by the Sudanese government, but also the international community”

In his speech, Osman pointed out that the UN security Council has adopted several resolutions on Darfur that have come to nothing

European ParliamentEuropean Parliament
“Unfortunately none of these has been implemented effectively. The victims feel disappointed. They are waiting to hear from you: from the people of Europe”

Osman wants the EU to send troops to protect civilians- even if the UN security council, or the Sudanese government says no:

“There is the UN charter- chapter 7, makes it imperative- if there is human rights violations members of the UN can individually go and protect the people. The NATO went to Kosovo and there was no UN security council resolution. And it was acceptable- because the idea was to protect the people.”

The President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering said Europe should consider sending troops

“Because what Salih Osman says is very convincing- and we should not only consider this but the leaders of the member states should decide it I’m very much in favour.”

Portuguese MEP José Ribeiro e Castro is more cautious:

“The process to send troops has to follow the proper manners- But we must listen to the words of Salih as an honest shout of despair and anger and indignation”

Osman’s shout of indignation is being amplified now that he received the Sakarov prize. President Pottering explained that it gives Osman exposure, and therefore some protection:

“This gives him moral support- this gives Salih Osman support for his security.”

It also gives him 50 000 euros, which he hopes to use to help victims in Darfur

“I will just continue first of all to struggle- voicing- out on behalf of the victims. Also making advocacy and appeals to the international community to address the situation in Darfur in a better manner”

Salih Mahmoud Osman was one of four people considered for the Sakharov prize-- including Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist who was killed last year:

“I am proud to accept this honour on behalf or the other candidates… and also on behalf of so many Sudanese who believe—as I do—in human dignity and in the pursuit of justice. Thank you”

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