Vaclav Havel Receives IRC Freedom Award, Vieira de Mello Honored for Humanitarian Service
The International Rescue Committee gave its prestigious Freedom Award to Vaclav Havel, human rights activist and former president of the Czech Republic.
"For his unwavering commitment to promote and protect human rights, Havel faced many threats and endured years of imprisonment," said George Rupp, president of the IRC. "This award recognizes his courage, leadership and devotion to freedom and peace."
The award was announced at the IRC's annual Freedom Award Benefit Dinner Wednesday evening (Nov. 12) in New York. Havel was unable to attend, but in remarks videotaped earlier in Prague, he said he was "moved and gratified by the honor" and thanked the IRC for its decades of assistance to refugees, particularly Czech exiles.
The first IRC Freedom Award was presented in 1957 to Willy Brandt, mayor of West Berlin, which was then an island of liberty surrounded by Communist East Germany. President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai received the award last year. Other winners include Winston Churchill and Burmese Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
The late UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was also honored at the IRC event with a humanitarian service award. His widow, Annie Vieira de Mello, accepted the award.
In a UN career spanning more than 30 years, the Brazilian-born Vieira de Mello helped resolve some of the world's most intractable humanitarian and peacekeeping challenges. Appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2002, Vieira de Mello took a leave of absence last May to serve in Iraq, where he died in the August 19 attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad.
Additional speakers at the event included Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, General Tommy Franks, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and actress Liv Ullmann. IRC's emergency coordinator in Liberia Joseph Gayah Kezele, winner of IRC's 2003 Sarlo Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, also spoke. Tom Brokaw, managing editor and anchor of the NBC Nightly News, was master of ceremonies.