Freedom Prize : an educational initiative

Freedom Prize : an educational initiative

We sat down for an interview with Jonas Bochet, director of the Institut International des Droits de l’Homme et de la Paix (International Institute of Human Rights and Peace), located in Hérouville-Saint-Clair, France. The purpose of the association is to contribute to developing a culture of peace that promotes the understanding of human rights among all citizens. It has organised the 1st edition of the Freedom Award, which will be handed out on the 5th of June of this year during the Normandy for Peace World Forum. During the interview we discussed the different stages of this unique initiative, which was put together to engage the world’s youth and which has selected Greta Thunberg as the recipient of the first year’s award.

What is the underlying meaning of this award?

The idea is to award a winner each year, with the recipient being a person or an organisation that has distinguished itself in the struggle for freedom. It is different from the Nobel Peace Prize, where to be nominated, you need to be co-opted by international organisations, governments or members of certain committees. For this award, it is young people ages 15 to 25 who nominate the candidates to then be reviewed by the team of award organisers, whose members include the Normandy Region, the 2IDHP and the academies. It’s the youth who review and then choose from the best applications the three finalists, and it’s the young people who also select the winner. In addition, the Freedom Award offers the young people involved the chance to select unknown or obscure nominees. The nominees every well could be a baker who, each day, puts aside a collection of bread to help the most vulnerable people, such as immigrants or the homeless, or it could be Malala Yousafzai* (editor’s note: Pakistani activist and winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize who fights for the right to education and stands strong against the oppression from the Taliban.) That is what makes this award so unique.  

Why focus on the initiative of freedom?

Freedom is closely connected to Normandy and its history, namely the history of the D-Day landings, where we were the first region in Western Europe to be liberated. We have now come to a time in our history where unfortunately providing widespread liberties to others has become more and more complicated. The Normandy region therefore wanted to launch an initiative that can spark discussions related to freedom and spread this ideal that was brought back to these shores by the liberating forces in 1944. This initiative is not intended just for people from Normandy since the youth from our region are all nearly aware of the stakes. The idea is that these youth from Normandy spread it on an international level, and it’s at this level that the region is identified as a beacon for freedom in the world. 

©Région Normandie

Meaning that’s where its legitimacy comes from?

Exactly. The region has earned its legitimacy related to the concept of Freedom as well as promoting the youth because Normandy has made a large commitment to youth policies and more specifically to the education of human rights, freedom and the importance of remembrance. There are also other initiatives, that have a unique place on the national stage, such as the Plaidoiries (speech competition) at the Caen Memorial Museum; the Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award for War Correspondents, where there is a focus on young people. Then there are various educational programmes, like those that are organised by the institute: human rights education, sustainable development objectives, etc. These programmes are not necessarily found in other regions in France. It also speaks to the originality and expertise of Normandy on these issues.  

What were the major stages of the award process?

The award was launched last June. The first stage was the nomination of the candidates. The youth were able to go on the website set up specifically for this purpose and find a nomination form for nominating a person or an organisation that they wanted to give the award to. It was best for the young people to work as group to nominate a candidate. We feel that a collective effort lends itself better to fostering deeper discussion and analysing the reasoning behind a nomination. The young people could do it as a class, through an association or as a group of students. Or it could even be just two members of a family who decided to submit a nomination despite not being involved in a typical group situation. The award organisers wanted to encourage people to pair up with other foreign groups, meaning students or groups of young people who offer a nomination in tandem with a group of young people from outside France. The second stage was to select three finalists from all of those nominated. And lastly, there was the online vote, intended for young people throughout the world who needed to “elect” one of the finalists who best represented freedom to them.  

How did the selection of the finalists and the selection of the award recipient take place?

This past February, a jury of thirty youths, between the ages of 15 and 25 and coming from 12 countries, selected the three finalists from 113 nominations. The three finalists were Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish girl in secondary school, who was selected for her fight against the inaction of the heads of state and the lack of awareness related to the urgency of climate change, Raif Badawi, a 35 year old Saudi writer and activist, selected for his fight in support of equality between the sexes and the freedom of thought and expression, and Lu Guang, 58 year old Chinese photojournalist, selected for his fight in denouncing the destruction of the environment caused by industrial development and growth at any price, spurred on by the Chinese government.  

At the close of online voting, which was open from 1 to 31 March, 2019, it was Greta Thunberg who ended up being the recipient of the Freedom Award, with 41.67% of the vote. The Awards ceremony will be held on the 5th of June at the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen, as part of the Normandy for Peace World Forum and the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, with WWII veterans in attendance. Greta Thunberg will be given a grant of 25,000 euros to help her in her continuing fight for freedom.