09/26/2014, 00.00
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'Alternative Nobel' goes to Sri Lankan Catholic Basil Fernando

by Melani Manel Perera
A member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, he was chosen for the 2014 Right Livelihood Award in view of "his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - For friends and colleagues, Basil Fernando, a Sri Lankan Catholic and a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, has always been a leading figure in the fight for human rights in Asia.

Now he is also this year's recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize". The other laureates are Edward Snowden (United States), Alan Rusbridger (United Kingdom), Asma Jahangir (Pakistan), and Bill Mckibben (United States).

The Right Livelihood Award was established in Sweden in 1980 by Jakob von Uexküll, a writer and former member of the European Parliament.

The prize is awarded to individuals and groups who, at the cost of personal sacrifice, offer practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing the world today, often in opposition to those in power who feel hampered by their work.

The jury decided to award the Alternative Nobel to Basil Fernando for "his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia."

Born on 14 October 1944, Basil Fernando is a graduate of the (then) University of Ceylon in 1972. After graduation, he taught English as a second language at university level for eight years, before becoming a practising criminal lawyer in 1980.

In those years, he became aware of the rampant corruption and the politicisation of the judicial system. In 1989, after tens of thousands of people had already "disappeared", he found out that his name had been added to a death list and he was thus forced to flee to Hong Kong, where he still lives today.

Between 1991 and 1994, he worked for the Human Rights Component of the UN Transitional Authority of Cambodia and was a senior officer with the UN Human Rights Centre.

Such experiences shaped his approach after he joined the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Legal Resources Centre Associate.

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