Right Livelihood Award champions ‘change-makers’ seeking justice

Oleksandra Matviichuk and her organisation the Center for Civil Liberties were honoured for their work defending human rights, strengthening democracy and pursuing accountability for war crimes. (Credit: Right Livelihood)

A Ukrainian human rights defender and two Somali peace activists have been named the winners of the 2022 Right Livelihood Award alongside a Ugandan environmental organisation and a Venezuelan cooperative network.

The four laureates announced on Thursday were honoured for their work as “grassroots actors dedicated to strengthening their communities”, said Ole von Uexkull, executive director at the Right Livelihood Foundation.

Oleksandra Matviichuk became the first Ukrainian to receive the prestigious award, which recognised her work defending human rights in the country, including documenting war crimes during Russia’s aggression.

Matviichuck was honoured for her work “building sustainable democratic institutions in Ukraine and modelling a path to international accountability for war crimes”.

She and her organisation, the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), have been instrumental in strengthening Ukrainian civil society and national institutions since 2007. Their work documenting war crimes and human rights violations has gained increased importance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Under extreme circumstances, they are working as part of an international effort to keep the focus on victims on the ground while continuing their efforts to strengthen democracy.

“Now we are going through a very dramatic time of Ukrainian history, we are fighting for freedom in all senses. We are fighting for the freedom to be an independent state, we are fighting for the freedom to be Ukrainians, we are fighting for the freedom to have a democratic choice,” Matviichuk said. “We are paying a rather high price for this. So this Award is a gesture of support for our struggle in general, and for my work, in particular.”

Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman were honoured for promoting peace and defending human rights in Somalia. (Credit: Courtesy of Elman Peace)

Mother and daughter Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman were also honoured for promoting peace and defending human rights in Somalia through their organisation Elman Peace, which focuses on community-based demilitarisation and peacebuilding initiatives and provides support for marginalised groups.

Continuing the legacy of their husband and father Elman Ali Ahmed, who was brutally assassinated in 1996 for his peace activism, the pair work to build peace in Somalia by reintegrating former combatants, particularly children, by delivering psychosocial support, rehabilitation, education and skills training to tackle root causes of extremism.

They also support survivors of gender-based violence and work to empower women and the next generation of youth to take part in building peace both in Somalia and other countries throughout west and central Africa.

“When you are working in the field, sometimes you just have your head down,” Elman said. “And you don’t see that people are watching and recognising the efforts that you’re putting in.

“This award offers recognition and a system of solidarity for not only my mom and me, but for the big team that we work with that doesn’t always have a spotlight on them.”

Read more: Ilwad Elman: peace processes need a fundamental rethink

The Africa Institute For Energy Governance (AFIEGO), an environmental organisation from Uganda, was also awarded for its efforts to protect the rights of local communities from environmentally damaging projects linked to the exploitation of oil and gas.

AFIEGO has stood with communities to oppose extractive projects which seek to exploit Uganda’s oil reserves discovered in 2006. The organisation has been at the forefront of efforts to stop the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) – a 1,400 kilometre pipeline that would cut through 178 Ugandan and 231 Tanzanian villages, causing mass displacement, environmental harm and further exacerbating the climate crisis.

Its work has drawn severe backlash from the Ugandan government, with members of its staff being threatened and harassed.

“For the work that we do here in Uganda, you need to be encouraged, you need to be motivated. We face a very hostile environment, including arrests,” said Dickens Kamugisha, AFIEGO’s chief executive officer.

“When the government knows that there are people around the world who appreciate our work, they think twice about attacking us or our communities. So this award means that we can help many more communities.”

AFIEGO has worked tirelessly to protect local communities from environmentally damaging projects. (Credit: AFIEGO)

The fourth laureate for this year’s award was Cecosesola, a network of community organisations from low-income areas that provides affordable goods and services to more than 100,000 families across Venezuela.

Since its foundation in 1967, Cecosesola has “improved the lives of thousands of families, providing them access to healthcare, education, and food”, said Right Livelihood’s Von Uexkull.

“In the midst of their country’s economic and political crises, Cecosesola operates in an open, horizontal and cooperative way to meet the needs of communities,” he added. “Their success proves that we can build societies – and economies – on trust, solidarity and sustainability instead of greed, competition and short-sightedness.”

Today, the organisation provides cooperative funeral services, food markets, a health centre, and savings and loans services. Cecosesola’s goods and services are almost entirely self-financed and offered well below retail prices.

“This award increases the possibility to share our more than 50 years of experience at an international level,” Cecosesola said. “And, to create new relationships with organisations and people who are also committed to building a world of solidarity.”

Right Livelihood said the four laureates were all “change-makers” who have “imagined a better world and worked tirelessly to make it a reality” in the face of crises spanning conflict, authoritarian government, international aggression and political inertia to take action to fight climate change.

“In the face of failing governance and a breakdown of order – including wars, terrorism, extractivism, massive displacement and economic crises – they have established new, human-centric systems,” said Von Uexkull in a statement. “Their successes demonstrate how we can build societies on the principles of justice rather than exploitation.”