Sydney Peace Prize goes to Bangladesh’s Irene Khan

Secretary General of Amnesty International Irene Zubaida Khan has been awarded the 2006 Sydney Peace Prize.

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Khan is the first Asian and first woman to spearhead Amnesty International

SYDNEY: Secretary General of Amnesty International Irene Zubaida Khan has been awarded the 2006 Sydney Peace Prize for “her courageous advocacy of human rights and her skills in identifying violence against women as a massive injustice and therefore a priority in campaigning for peace”. 

She said, “I am deeply honoured. Through this award, the Sydney Peace Foundation recognises that there can be no peace without justice and respect for human rights”.

Born in Bangladesh, Khan is the first woman, the first Asian and the first Muslim to guide the world’s largest human rights organisation, bringing a new perspective to it. Deeply concerned about violence against women, she called for better protection of women’s human rights and initiated a process of consultations with women activists to design a global campaign by Amnesty International against violence on women. 

On the current debate raging over women’s clothes, Khan said, “Violence against women has less to do with how women dress and far more to do with the inequality of women, the impunity of those who commit gender crimes and the apathy of state and society that condone and encourage attitudes that facilitate gender violence. Women have the right to freedom of expression, and that includes what they choose to wear. Governments have a duty to create a safe environment in which every woman can make that choice without fear of violence or coercion...” 

A recipient of several academic awards, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship and the Pilkington Woman of the Year Award 2002, she recognises that at a time when fear and failed leadership threaten peace and human rights, there is a greater than ever need for individual activism.

Delivering the Sydney Peace Prize lecture she said, “Discrimination and racial profiling have become an accepted element of anti-terrorism strategies in many countries, undermining both human rights and trust between communities”

Khan, who studied law at the University of Manchester and Harvard Law School emphasised, “We should avoid simplifying multiple identities of people into a single religious one. When you identify me only by my faith, you exclude all my identity as a woman, a mother, a lawyer, a citizen of Bangladesh, a resident of London, a lover of French cuisine and English theatre. The plurality and not the singularity of our identities is the way in which to overcome fear and create social harmony in a troubled world”. 

Each year the Sydney Peace Foundation awards the prize to an individual who has made significant contributions to ‘peace with justice’.

The only other winner from the sub-continent has been novelist and human rights activist Arundhati Roy, who was awarded the prize in 2004 for her work in social campaigns and advocacy of non-violence.

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