January 23, 2017 (JUBA) – A South Sudanese civil society activist has been announced as 2017 winner of the prestigious Civil Rights Defenders award.
- South Sudanese civil society activist Edmund Yakani (The Niles/File)
Edmund Yakani, the executive director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO) was reportedly recognized for continuously striving for accountability, justice and respect for human rights in a context of conflict, violence and severe human rights violations, despite risks to his own security.
The annual prize is awarded a person who, despite risking his or her own safety, continues working to ensure that other people’s civil and political rights are recognised and protected.
“Edmund Yakani has, on a countless number of occasions, demonstrated his commitment in promoting genuine dialogue and efforts among social and political actors. He is active in calling for a greater inclusion of civil society in the peace talks”, Robert Hårdh, the executive director of Civil Rights Defenders, said in a statement.
He added, “His contribution in promoting human rights and its defenders has been of paramount importance, in particular as he is working in the context of weak institutions and ongoing conflict”.
The South Sudanese activist has, on several occasions, demonstrated his commitment to defend and promote human rights, democratic transition and justice in the young nation.
He particularly stands out in his effort to ensure respect for rule of law and justice, and inclusion of civil society in the ongoing peace talks.
“For me, this award symbolises motivation and recognition of the efforts and hard work to protect human rights defenders in South Sudan. This is a call for more efforts to engage in further protection for human rights defenders and their families”, said Yakani.
South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, gained its independence as recent as in July 2011. By many social, economic and political standards, the country is among the poorest in the world. Respect for civil and political rights has never been established to the level its citizens wished for at independence.
The situation for human rights, however, worsened following the outbreak of inter-ethnic and armed conflicts in 2013. Since then, human rights defenders and outspoken critics have been increasingly targeted by the government, security forces and other armed actors and Yakani received several threats due to his work.
“State authorities see human rights work as part of a politically motivated agenda against them, and hence human rights defenders are seen as enemies of the state. In addition, the rule of law is compromised to the level that impunity has become a norm in the South Sudanese society”, explained the South Sudanese activist.
But despite facing these enormous challenges and risks, Yakani stands his ground, continuing to promote and ensure respect for human rights.
Meanwhile last year’s recipient of the prize was Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the Coordinator for the Vietnamese Bloggers Network who is well known for her use of social media to speak out against injustices and human rights abuses in Vietnam.