The Sahrawi student Elkouria Amidane received the Students' Peace Prize 2009 on 27th February 2009. “A brave and worthy winner”, said Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister. Nobel peace prize laureates praised her work.
Elkouria Amidane was selected among 291 nominees from around the world, to receive the Students' Peace Prize 2009.
The prize was given to her at a ceremony at the Olavshallen Concert Hall in Trondheim last night. 1200 people attended the two hour ceremony. The ceremony was opened by Trondheim symphony orchestra, which was followed by leading Norwegian artists.
Amidane was awarded for her work to document and spread information about human rights violations in occupied Western Sahara, particularly against Sahrawi students. The Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Betty Williams was a key speaker at the ceremony, talking about peace work, and pointing to the human rights violations in Western Sahara.
The prize is awarded every second year, and handed out at the closing of the biannual week-long International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT).
“Amidane is an exceptional candidate for the Students' Peace Prize. She and her family have been tortured and harassed for their non-violent struggle for independence and human rights. At the same time, Amidane has succeeded in building an international network, so that the world has been able to see what is going on in Western Sahara”, said the chairwoman of the Student Peace Prize Committee, Ms Sigrun Espe.
Another member of the Prize Committee board, senior journalist Mr. Bjørn Hansen, agrees.
"Amidane represents a group of young, brave people who puts their life at stake for what they struggle for. She is doing a solid contribution to the fight for solidarity and to stop an authoritarian regime", said Hansen, who has been working for many years as foreign correspondent for Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.
Also the Norwegian government saluted Amidane, in a comment in the newspaper Adresseavisen today.
“Amidane is a worthy winner through her brave, non-violent struggle to improve the Sahrawi peoples rights”, said the Norwegian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Raymond Johansen.
“The prize is important, leading to increased awareness for the Western Sahara conflict”, the Deputy Minister stated.
In spite of the government's praising of Amidane, the people behind the Peace Prize, however, feel the Norwegian government is not doing enough regarding the issue.
“By means of youth parties and student organisations, the future leaders of Norway have expressed their support of Amidane, but where is the support of today's political leaders? Why isnt the Norwegian government actively involved?”, asked Thor Richard Isaksen, Leader of the Students' Peace Prize 2009, and Ole Danbolt Mjøs, Member of the Peace Prize Committee, in an op-ed in Norwegian leading daily newspaper Dagbladet yesterday.
The latter was chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee from 2003 until 1 January 2009. The authors particularly criticized the government for not doing enough to stop the Norwegian participation in oil search in the occupied country.
Amidane participated in a number of meetings and workshops during the festival, and gave numerous speeches. She met with both Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi (above), Desmond Tutu and Betty Williams.
Desmond Tutu at the opening speech of ISFiT festival made the audience cheer twice for Amidane.
“I am always interested in following the activities of young persons working for human rights. This means we can have hope for the future”, said Nobel peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi.
Amidane also had meetings with the Mayor of the city of Trondheim, Mrs. Rita Ottervik.
During the acceptance speech she stated that there are many Sahrawis who might as well have deserved the prize.
“I am extremely humble when I stand in front of you today. When I receive this prize, I dedicate it to the Sahrawi students and people”, Amidane said at the acceptance speech, saying that she is only one of many people enduring the same battles at home.
She also announced that she is looking for a way to donate her prize money to other struggling Sahrawi pupils or students.
Several hundred people last night also took part in a torch march through the streets of Trondheim. They had gathered in the heavy snow fall to listen to speeches at Trondheim Square, by the chairman of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, Mr. Ronny Hansen, by visiting Sahrawi teacher in Norway, Mr. Basiri Mulay and the leader of the Students' Peace Prize, Mr. Thor Richard Isaksen. Representatives of the small Sahrawi community in Norway, as well as from several organizations joined the march. See photos of the march in the snow here.
Apart from the mentioned Mr. Mjøs, Mr. Hansen and Ms Espe, the Peace Prize Committee consists of the following members: Mr. Stein Tønnesson, director of International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Mrs. Gro Brækken, secretary-general of Save the Children Norway, Ms Marte Senstad and Mr. Erik Evans of the National Union of Students' in Norway, as well as Ms. Ina Tanberg and Mr. Øistein Svelle of the Norwegian Association of Students.
Former winners of the prize have come from Burma, East Timor, Colombia and Zimbabwe. As a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the award, all the former winners were this year gathered at the festival. ISFiT had in total 450 participants from over 100 countries. Over 4500 students had applied to attend the festival for this year.
In the coming two weeks, Amidane will give a series of public speeches in the Norwegian cities of Tromsø, Bergen, Stavanger and Oslo.
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