AddaProfile: Tawakkol Karman

Our #AddaHumanRights profile for this week is Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni human rights activist and winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tawakkol Karman was born in the city of Taiz in south-west Yemen in 1979. Coming from a professional Yemeni family, she grew up in during a volatile time in Yemen’s history. The country was reunified north and south in 1990, but suffered violence and political instability after, including a civil war in 1994.

These events formed the backdrop to Karman’s childhood. She went to University in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, before embarking on a career in journalism. She used journalism to promote human rights in the country. In 2005 she co-founded the human rights group Women Journalists Without Chains, in order to promote the freedom of a traditionally state-muzzled press.

Before the Arab Spring in 2011, Karman had for many years organised a protest movement to combat government repression and promote social justice in Yemen. After the Revolution in 2011 she became a leading figure, encouraging and helping women to become involved in peacebuilding in the country.

Karman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 32, then the youngest person ever to receive the award. It was presented in recognition of her work in promoting women’s rights and safety in Yemen, ranked as the most unequal country for women by the WEF. Karman continues to promote human rights and social justice in Yemen today.

Check out her interview after winning the Nobel Peace Prize here:

PC: Chatham House

AddaProfile:Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar.

Our #AddaProfile this week looks at the European Parliament’s #SakharovPrize for Freedom of Thought, awarded this week in Brussels to Islamic State survivors and Iraqi Yazidi activists Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar.

Islamic State forces entered the village of Kocho in northern Iraq in August 2014. IS militants killed all males in the village and abducted the females, selling them into sex slavery. Murad and Aji Bashar were amongst the women taken. They each managed to escape, Murad in November 2014 and Aji Bashar in April 2016, after almost two years held captive.

Murad, 23, and Aji Bashar, 18, now live in Germany, where they raise awareness of the genocidal campaign led by Islamic State militants against the minority religious group the Yazidi in Iraq, and of the plight of women who are subjected to their campaign of sexual violence.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was set up in 1988 and is awarded each year by the European Parliament to recognise individuals and organisations around the world defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

You can find out more about the persecution of the Yazidis by IS here:

and more about Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar and how to support them here:

PC: European Parliament.


AddaProfile: Adolfo Perez Esquivel

Our #AddaProfile this week turns to South America, and one of Argentina’s greatest living human rights activists, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.

Born in 1931, Esquivel was born to first generation Spanish immigrants to Argentina Despite growing up in severe poverty in Buenos Aires, he managed to secure a place studying at Manuel Belgrano School of Fine Arts and the National University of La Plata, where he trained as a painter and sculptor.

His activism began in the 1960s, when he started working with Christian pacifist groups. He gave up his job teaching in 1974 to commit himself full time to working for the liberation of the poor through non-violent means. He continued to work promoting human rights after a coup in 1976 installed a dictatorship in Argentina, drawing attention to the atrocities of the regime. The following year he was detained by police in Buenos Aires, tortured, and held without trial for 14 months.

He continued his activism upon his release despite ongoing harassment from the police. In 1980 his work received international recognition, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He has campaigned in support of humanitarian causes ever since, and has recently been an outspoken critic of US interventionist foreign policy.

PC: Marcel Antonisse – Dutch National Archives.


AddaProfile: Wangari Maathai

This week’s #AddaProfile focuses on Wangari Muta Maathai, Kenyan human rights and environmental activist.

Maathai was born in rural Kenya in 1940. She completed primary and secondary school in Kenya, receiving admission to the only Catholic high school for girls in Kenya, the Loreto school in Limuru. Upon graduating in 1960 she won a scholarship on a programme sponsored by John F. Kennedy to study in the United States. She studied biology, which she then pursued at doctoral level in Germany and Kenya. She became the first woman in Kenya to be appointed to the position of Associate Professor in 1977.

In 1976 she founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental and women’s rights movement focused on planting trees with women’s groups, to improve both quality of life and the environment. This movement has been responsible for planting more than 20 million trees across Africa. She served in the chair of the National Council of Women of Kenya from 1981 to 1987 and as co-chair of Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, a campaign aimed at cancelling unpayable debt for African countries.

She advocated on a range of human rights and environmental issues throughout her career, and spoke at the United Nations on a number of occasions. Her work received international acclaim and she was given a number of awards, most notably the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai died in Kenya in 2011.


AddaProfile: Liu Xiaobo

This week’s #AddaProfile is on Liu Xiaobo, Chinese political and humans rights activist.
Liu Xiaobo was born in the Jilin province in north-east China in 1955. He studied in Jilin and then Beijing, where he received his PhD in Literature in 1988. During this time he became known as a critic of the Chinese establishment and ruling class. He took up a number of positions as a visiting scholar in the United States before returning home in 1989 ahead of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Upon his return he became involved in the activist movement. He was incarcerated for his involvement for a number of months, and was expelled from his post at Beijing Normal University. His books were banned and he was vilified by the government media. He continued his political dissent and criticism of the regime both from China and abroad, and was jailed on many subsequent occasions over the next two decades.

In 2008 he was a signatory of the Charter 08 document which called for greater freedom of expression and the expansion of human rights in China. This led to his arrest, trial and detention for subversive activity. He remains in jail in China to this day, despite international condemnation and calls for his release. In 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, for his long non-violent struggle for human rights in China.



AddaProfile: Amartya Sen

This week’s #AddaProfile looks at Amartya Sen, first Indian winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science and theorist on justice.

Amartya Sen was born in Manikganj in British India (modern-day Bangladesh) in 1933. Studying first in Dhaka and then Kolkata, Sen moved to Cambridge in 1953 to study economics and then philosophy. After finishing his PhD Sen returned to teach in India, before being appointed to posts in the USA and England.

Sen’s pioneering contribution to work on social equality and human development was his ‘capabilities approach’ to equality. Rather than understanding equality in terms of the distribution of different goods, Sen contends that we should instead focus on people’s ability to take part in social life and activities. Giving everyone an equal right to run for political office, for instance, does not create genuine equality if the disadvantages faced by those who are poor or disabled, and are hence less capable of running, are not rectified.

Sen also promoted the idea that policymakers should be concerned first and foremost with addressing ‘manifest injustices’ in the world. These are injustices which are recognised as such regardless of what your own idea of justice is. As examples of this Sen pointed to famines in countries which continue to exporting food, and the 100 million women who are ‘missing’ in the world as a result of sex-selective abortion, infanticide and inadequate nutrition and healthcare.

Today, Sen is Professor of Philosophy and Economics at Harvard University, as well as a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science in 1998.



AddaQuote: On Women’s Rights

While Hillary Clinton is the most successful female presidential candidate in the US to date, the very first woman to run was Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Born on this day in 1838, Woodhull was a pioneer in promoting women’s rights and universal suffrage. Check out this profile of her, via Smithsonian Magazine: