World-renowned musician Angélique Kidjo and three inspirational African youth activist movements have been declared this year’s joint winners of the prestigious Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2016, the organization said today.
The award will be shared between Benin-born artist Angélique Kidjo, one of world’s most successful African singer-songwriters, and the activist groups Y’en a marre from Senegal, le Balai Citoyen from Burkina Faso and Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) from DRC. All will be honored at the awards ceremony in Dakar, Senegal, on May 28.
“The Ambassador of Conscience Award is a celebration of those public figures who have shown exceptional courage in standing up to injustice. Angélique Kidjo and the members of Y’en a marre, le Balai Citoyen and LUCHA have all proved themselves to be bold advocates for human rights, using their talents to inspire others,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Grammy-winning artist Angélique Kidjo fled her homeland in the 1980s after being pressured to perform for the country’s repressive regime.
In a 30-year-career spawning 12 albums, she has been a prominent campaigner for freedom of expression and for the education of girls in Africa, as well as against female genital mutilation.
“I have always tried to use my voice—singing and spoken—to fight injustice and inequality. Amnesty International’s work throughout the years has been so courageous and extraordinary that receiving the Ambassador of Conscience award is intimidating to me! The award will energize me to stay outspoken about the crucial human rights issues of our time,” said Kidjo.
Y’en a marre (Fed Up) is a group of Senegalese rappers and journalists who joined forces in January 2011 to encourage young people to register to vote in the country’s election and exercise their right to freedom of expression.
Three of the group's founders were arrested in February 2012 for helping to organize a peaceful sit-in protest against the government at that time.
Y'en a marre has remained active since the election, hosting meetings and urging the new government to implement promised reforms such as land reforms, a key issue affecting Senegal's rural poor.
“There is no such thing as a foregone conclusion, there are only abandoned responsibilities,” said Fadel Barro, Y’en a marre’s coordinator.
Le Balai Citoyen (The Citizen's Broom) is a political grassroots movement committed to peaceful protest and co-founded in 2013 by two musicians, reggae artist Sams’K Le Jah and rapper Smockey (Serge Bambara).
Le Balai Citoyen has voiced concerns about a range of issues, from land grabs to power cuts, and mobilized people to claim their rights and fight impunity. Under the slogan “after your revolt, your vote” the group ran political education schools in a bid to enhance the voter registration rate among youths ahead of last November’s elections. The movement’s name refers jointly to “cleaning up” perceived political corruption and to the regular street-cleaning undertaken by Burkinabe citizens in their neighbourhoods. Le Balai Citoyen members carry brooms during protests to symbolise this.
“Le Balai Citoyen is honored to receive this award. To all those who have placed their trust in us and who have read through our acts the commitment to fight against injustice: we want to reaffirm that our convictions remain as strong and safe as our dreams which underlie them,” said Smockey of Le Balai Citoyen.
LUCHA is another community-based youth movement committed to peaceful protest that was created in Goma, eastern DRC, in 2012. Its activism focuses on social issues, human rights and the protection of civilians from armed groups. LUCHA advocates for social justice and democratic governance through non-partisan and non-violent actions.
LUCHA activist Fred Bauma was arrested along with 26 other activists in March 2015 when Congolese security forces stormed a press conference in Masina, Kinshasa. The conference was set to launch a youth initiative, Filimbi, aimed at educating the youth on participation into the democratic process in DRC. Fred Bauma remains detained along with Yves Makwambala, who designed the Filimbi movement’s website. Amnesty International considers them both prisoners of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.
Protests and actions organized by LUCHA continue to be systematically repressed by the security forces. For example, since Bauma and Makwambala were detained, 32 other people have faced arrest solely for demanding their release. Currently, at least nine people connected to LUCHA are in jail.
“We are perfectly happy and deeply humbled to welcome this prestigious award. It is the recognition of our commitment, and a great encouragement to keep up our non-violent fight for social justice and democracy in our country,” said Juvin Kombi, one of LUCHA’s members.
“We dedicate this award to Fred, to all our fellow countrymen who are harassed for their civic engagement and to all people.”
The Ambassador of Conscience Award celebrates individuals and groups who have shown exceptional courage standing up to injustice, who have used their talents to inspire others and who have furthered the cause of human rights.
It also aims to create debate, encourage public action and raise awareness of inspirational stories and human rights issues.
Previous recipients include:
Vaclav Havel (2003); Mary Robinson and Hilda Morales Trujillo (2004); U2 and Paul McGuinness (2005); Nelson Mandela (2006); Peter Gabriel (2008); Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (awarded 2009, presented 2012); Harry Belafonte and Malala Yousafzai (2013); Ai Wei Wei and Joan Baez (2015).