ISLAMABAD - Justice Project Pakistan’s Executive Director Sarah Belal was yesterday awarded the inaugural Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.

France and Germany had established the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law earlier this year.

Sarah founded the JPP in 2009 to defend the rights of the most vulnerable Pakistani prisoners facing the harshest punishments. She was recognised for “repeatedly (igniting) debates about the Pakistani justice system, both locally and internationally.”

Through her many activities, Sarah has become part of an international network of legal experts and investigators who advocate for victims of severe human rights violations.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Germany’s counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the prize was aimed at encouraging inspiring engagement of the brave women and men throughout the world, who were fighting for the rights of others.

“The two of us have decided to establish a Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. This week, we will award the prize for the first time. We will honour women and men who are showing great dedication in standing up for the rights of their fellow human beings. They often do so at significant personal risk and under difficult conditions. They deserve our thanks and support,” the ministers said in a joint article shared by the German embassy.

On the basis of joint proposals from German and French missions abroad, this year’s prize were awarded to: Tahmina Rahman (Bangladesh), Aleh Hulak (Belarus), Maria da Penha (Brazil), Thun Saray (Cambodia), Maximilienne Ngo Mbe (Cameroun), Beverley K Jacobs (Canada), Jacqueline Moudeïna (Chad), Wang Qiaoling (China), Montserrat Solano Carboni (Costa Rica), Mme Sunitha Krishnan (India), Mme Mary Lawlor (Ireland), Pietro Bartolo (Italy), Eva Abu Halaweh (Jordan), Sarah Belal (Pakistan), Valentina Cherevatenko (Russia), and the White Helmets (Syria).

The foreign ministers said: “we will continue to work tirelessly every day, not only to break the silence but also to act effectively to prevent the violation of people’s fundamental freedoms. The fight for human rights must be conducted together and at all levels. The Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law reflects this.”

They added: “Protecting and promoting human rights is at the core of French and German foreign policy endeavours. Human rights constitute the foundation of peace and justice in our world. This is why we, as the international community, pledged to protect and promote these rights following the terrible world wars of the 20th century, undertaking to do so within the framework of the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union.”

Among the winners Maria da Penha from Brazil campaigned tirelessly for the protection of women against domestic violence. She has been using a wheelchair since being attacked by her husband in the 1970s. Sunitha Krishnan from India fights forced prostitution and human trafficking in her country. Jacqueline Moudeïna from Chad has been fighting for more than 15 years to bring Hissène Habré to justice for atrocities committed during his presidency.

Raed al-Saleh was a businessman who sold electrical equipment before the Syrian conflict. He is now the head of Syria’s White Helmets, a group of volunteers who are risking their own lives to help rescue people following air strikes and to rebuild destroyed infrastructure.

“On our many joint trips, we have both seen up close what it means when people are denied their fundamental rights. That is why we are taking resolute action – using the entire spectrum of foreign policy instruments available, from supporting local human rights defenders to strengthening democratic governance, from crisis prevention to post-conflict peace-building,” said the French and German ministers in their article.