A Moroccan-French activist and the UN Secretary General were named the winners of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity on Wednesday.
A virtual ceremony at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi will be held on Thursday to honour Latifa Ibn Ziaten and Antonio Guterres, who won $1 million between them to further their initiatives.
The award recognises individuals committed to fostering conditions for peaceful coexistence around the world.
It was created after the Document on Human Fraternity was signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al-Tayeb, in Abu Dhabi, in February 2019.
Mr Guterres was chosen by a panel of six judges for working to further world peace and security since being named Secretary-General of the UN in 2017.
Some of the key initiatives he spearheaded during his tenure include countering hate speech and violence, modernising UN peacekeeping practices, and the Global Ceasefire Appeal and Initiative during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is with humility and deep gratitude that I feel honoured to receive the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity. I see it also as recognition of the work the United Nation is doing every day, everywhere, to promote peace and human dignity," Mr Guterres said.
“We live in challenging times. We see the threats coming from the pandemic, from the climate, threats from war and conflict in different parts of the world.
"Therefore, it is fantastic to see the enormous leadership of the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, pushing humankind to come together, in unity, in dialogue, to promote peace, to promote fraternity, and to promote the unity that is necessary to address all the challenges to defeat hate and ensure that human solidarity wins the battles we are facing.”
Latifa Ibn Ziaten was also recognised on Wednesday. The activist dedicated her life to raising awareness against escalating religious extremism after her son, Imad, died in a terrorist attack in 2012.
Since then, Ms Ibn Ziaten has become a well-known civil society activist in France and beyond, working with families and communities to prevent youth radicalisation and spreading the message of peace, dialogue, and mutual respect.
“It is a great honour, and indeed humbling, to have been recognised by the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity for the work I and many others do, each day, in addressing extremism though dialogue, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence," she said.
"Most importantly, I hope this award helps raise awareness among a wider audience about the need to continue these efforts."
The situation in France and Europe poses many challenges due to a sense of exclusion and marginalisation that affects so many young hearts, she said.
"That said, I feel progress is being made, and we continue to work with families and communities to prevent youth radicalisation and to understand how we can create opportunities for more open dialogue and advocacy; making co-operation and mutual understanding the norm – not the exception."
Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, Secretary-General of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity and co-author of the Document on Human Fraternity, said: “As head of the UN, Mr Guterres has been responsible for launching many individual and joint initiatives aimed at ending humanity’s violence against itself and violations against nature. His commitment and dedication in this role has shown that he is a true endorser of the approach and values advocated by the Document on Human Fraternity.
“In recognising Latifa Ibn Ziaten as a 2021 honoree, it is a bittersweet realisation of how circumstances born out of such grievous and personal sorrow have been turned into a fitting tribute to her son, and all other victims of terrorist violence. Ms Latifa’s great work in advocating for the values of human fraternity as a way to end violence is truly inspiring."
Michaelle Jean, former governor-general of Canada and one of the six judges of the award, said the annual award brought hope to the world and was a reminder of how "urgent it is that we take action in greater spirit of human fraternity."
Speaking to The National, she said: "In a world with so many crises, [and] the pandemic, there are so many solitary, people are distressed by the situation. It is important that every gesture, every action, every word in the spirit of fraternity, be heard be supported and be acknowledged."
The selection process included nominations from every part of the globe.
“It was quite moving to receive such an impressive number from around the world and to see how much men, women, organisations, intuitions are really gathering all possible efforts, are really committed to make a difference and to come up with solutions to address very dire challenges that confronts us around the world," Ms Jean said.
"We saw an amazing labour of love happening around the world and in a time of such uncertainty it feels good to find in what people are doing some kind of hope for the world.
"All of us members of the jury felt very encouraged and we realised the importance of this award. It is a very generous award – $1 million – to make sure the initiatives become sustainable."
The initiatives are important for the upholding of fundamental rights and freedoms, the recognition of people’s dignity, the importance of making sure that communities can live in better conditions, she said.
Nominations for next year's award will open in May. People cannot nominate themselves, but may be nominated by organisations and associations.
Thursday's awards ceremony coincides with the first International Day of Human Fraternity, which was adopted by a UN General Assembly resolution, in December. It ceremony can be watched at zayedaward.org from 5.30pm (UAE time).