'Alternative Nobel Prize' Rewards Good People Protecting Basic Human Rights

They've fought for gay rights and environmental protections, and protected war victims.

They weren’t interested in rewards or fame, but their commitment to protecting basic human rights couldn’t go unrecognized. Four people who have committed their lives to lifting up underserved communities have been honored with the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”

Launched in 1980 officially as the laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, the honor supports those offering “practical and exemplary answers” to the world’s most plaguing issues. This year’s winners have fought for gay rights and saved vulnerable people in war-torn countries, among other notable accomplishments.

"With their tireless work, on the frontlines and in courts, the laureates uphold the values that led to the creation of the United Nations 70 years ago," Ole von Uexkull, executive director, said in a statement. "In this year of global humanitarian crises, they provide an inspiring response to the defining challenges of our time.”

Tony de Brum, Honorary Award

UN/2015 Right Livelihood Awards

Witnessing the damaging effects of the United States' nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands while growing up helped shape Tony de Brum’s human rights work. In 2014, the foreign minister filed lawsuits against all nine nuclear weapons states in the International Court of Justice, with the goal was of holding them accountable for their failure to adhere to the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As the architect of the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, Brum has also played a key role in getting the Pacific Island States to adopt concrete measures to combat climate change.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera


After nearly getting expelled from her Uganda university in 2002 for being openly gay, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera felt more emboldened that ever to take on her country’s virulent anti-LGBTI policies.

Like many gay rights activists in her country, Nabagesera has been arrested and attacked, yet she remains one of the few vocal advocates in her country who’s pushing back against discriminatory practices and empowering the LGBTI community at large.

Last year, for example, she was one of 10 petitioners who challenged a bill that imposed further measures to criminalize homosexuality and infringe upon LGBTI rights. And when a Ugandan tabloid published the names and photos of people who were reportedly gay and lesbian, she and two other activists took the newspaper to court and won the case.

Gino Strada


After graduating from the University of Milan as a specialist surgeon, Gino Strada was well on his way to cultivating a lucrative career. But after working in Italy, South Africa and the U.S., Strada left that cushy life behind to serve as a war surgeon with the International Committee for the Red Cross to work in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Pakistan and Somalia in the late '80s and early '90s.

In 1994, he and his wife, Teresa, founded the nonprofit Emergency, which offers high quality, free-of-charge medical and surgical care to victims of war, landmines and poverty.

By 2015, the nonprofit had served more than 6 million people in 15 countries, building hospitals, surgical and rehabilitation centers and pediatric facilities, among other critical medical developments in underserved areas.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Stephen Lowe

A native of Northern Quebec, Canada, Sheila Watt-Cloutier is intimately aware of the struggles and injustices facing Inuit people, who are indigenous people inhabiting arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Watt-Cloutier has worked to protect their resources and health from pollution and improve their education opportunities.

While serving as the spokesperson for Arctic indigenous people in the late '90s, Watt-Cloutier helped negotiate the Stockholm Convention, banning or restricting the manufacture and use of persistent organic pollutants, which are known to pollute the Arctic food chain.

Concerned how the loss of sea ice and other environmental changes could destroy Inuit hunting culture, Watt-Cloutier got together with 62 hunters and elders from communities across Canada and Alaska in 2005 to file a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They argued that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases from the United States have violated Inuit cultural and human rights. That “opened the door” to recognizing indigenous people’s collective rights and a established the link between climate change and human rights.

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