Mohsen Abdelmoumen: How and why did the idea come about to create the Right Livelihood Foundation that awards an alternative Nobel Prize?
Johannes Mosskin: The Right Livelihood Award was founded 40 years ago by the Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull. He was alarmed by the disconnect between the urgency of global problems and the way the international community was dealing with them. Von Uexkull saw how decision-makers were meeting behind closed doors, out of touch with reality. Activists and civil society organisations were at the same time gathering outside the meeting rooms, often presenting constructive solutions to the problems. However, their proposals were not taken seriously, and von Uexkull wanted to do something about it.
"Whoever gets the Nobel Prize will be listened to," von Uexkull thought and contacted the Nobel Foundation, with the proposal to establish two new awards, one environmental prize and another one to promote knowledge and perspectives of people in emerging countries. To fund the prizes, he offered to sell his stamp collection, worth more than one million US Dollars, and donate the money to the Nobel Foundation.
The proposal was, however, politely rejected. There and then, von Uexkull decided to create the Right Livelihood Award to support people fighting for a just, peaceful and sustainable world. A unique feature is that the Award comes with long-term support that includes networking and protection for Laureates under threat. The Award was presented for the first time in 1980, one day before the Nobel Prize. Today, it is one of the most prestigious awards in sustainability, social justice and peace. Because of its founding history, it has come to be known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize'.
Who are the personalities that constitute your jury and what are the criteria for selecting the prize-winners?
The Right Livelihood Award is annually presented to four Laureates. Unlike most other international prizes, it has no categories. The Award recognises that, in striving to meet the human challenges of today's world, the most inspiring and remarkable work often defies any standard classification.
We seek new candidates from all walks of life who are practical visionaries – people who are creating structural changes through concrete and successful work. As we maintain an open nomination process, everyone is welcome to propose any individual or organisation they feel live up to this standard. The deadline for the current round of nominations is March 4, 2020.
Jury members come from different countries, continents, professions and fields of experience. They have extensive knowledge of international affairs and, in particular, of global justice and environmental issues.
In 2014, you gave the Award to Edward Snowden. Isn't the fact that you've rewarded Edward Snowden an encouragement to all of earth's whistleblowers who risk their lives to provide truthful, quality information?
Edward Snowden was honoured for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights. Thanks to his bravery, people and elected officials across the globe have had a chance to make well-informed decisions based on facts that had been kept in secrecy.
Daniel Ellsberg (USA) and Mordechai Vanunu (Israel) are two other whistleblowers bestowed with the Right Livelihood Award who have shaped world history through their bravery. We hope that many others will follow in their footsteps and reveal illegal and immoral actions taken by governments, companies and international organisations.
You rewarded Aminatou Haidar in 2019. Do you think your Award will help to highlight the struggle of the Sahrawi people against Moroccan colonialism?
The Sahrawi people have been suffering under Moroccan occupation for more than 40 years, and any opposition is brutally punished. The unresolved issue of Western Sahara has for long been neglected by the UN, the EU and the media. Morocco controls information in the occupied territories with an iron fist. We hope that the Award to Haidar will help to highlight the Sahrawi people's right to self-determination. Her courage and determination to organise a movement of nonviolent resistance and speak up internationally are an inspiration for everyone who believes in justice. We saw many reports in international media last fall about the struggle of Haidar and the Sahrawi people as a result of her being named a Right Livelihood Award Laureate.
You also rewarded in 2013 the Palestinian lawyer Raji Sourani in Gaza. As you know, the people of Gaza is under blockade. Has your organisation, in addition to this prestigious Award, done any other actions to help the Palestinian people?
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is terrible, and our 2013 Laureate Raji Sourani is often prevented from travelling due to the blockade. Deeply concerned about the restrictions faced by Sourani and his colleagues at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Right Livelihood Foundation sent a delegation to Gaza from 27-30 October 2014. The delegation included Sourani's fellow Laureate Helen Mack from Guatemala, the Archbishop Emeritus, Church of Sweden, as well as board members of the Foundation. We are still in close contact with Sourani and have repeatedly invited him to participate in events organised by the Foundation in Stockholm and Geneva. It should also be mentioned that we have honoured several Israeli Laureates who are fighting for the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people.
You have also supported the struggle of the Latin America peoples. Why is it very important to give your Award to the movement of Rural Workers without land (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra) and the Pastoral Commission of Land (Comissão Pastoral da Terra) in Brazil, as you did in 1991, or to the COAMA (Consolidation of the Amazon Region) in Colombia in 1999?
These organisations are great examples of movements that have successfully fought for social justice, human rights and sustainability. We admire their dedicated efforts towards transforming a continent marked by the exploitation of natural resources and huge inequalities between rich and poor. By awarding and continuously supporting the work of such organisations, we aim to elevate their causes and amplify their impact.
With your prize, you draw attention to the struggles of many peoples that are ignored by the mass media. Don't you think that your prize also helps to inform people about the struggles of people across the earth?
Yes, I do. The Right Livelihood Award draws attention to many causes that are being more or less ignored, not only by media but also by people in power. By building awareness about our Laureates’ visionary and courageous work, and by promoting their solutions to the most pressing challenges of our time, we aim to inspire change.
In 2018, you awarded your prize to three Saudi human rights activists who are now in prison, Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani et Waleed Abu al-Khair. Why do the media around the world rarely talk about the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia? On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is waging a bloody war against Yemen. Have you thought of honoring people from Yemen to raise awareness of the war being waged there by Saudi Arabia?
One reason why there's a lack of coverage of the severe human rights violations in Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly the economic influence the regime has around the world. Politicians, business leaders and diplomats risk paying a heavy price if they criticise the Saudi regime for its policies.
We are always interested in receiving nominations of people and organisations who are contributing to positive change. Our, to date, 178 Laureates originate from 70 countries, but so far we never had a Laureate from Yemen. Readers who know of deserving changemakers from Yemen are most welcome to visit our website and propose a candidate for the Award.
Why don't the mainstream media cover your awards? Is your foundation disrupting the established order?
That assumption is not correct. Media around the world are covering the Award, from India to Sweden and the US. With that being said, I'm the first to say that our Laureates’ visionary and courageous work to build a more just, peaceful and sustainable world deserves much more attention than they get today.
I'm Algerian. My people is demonstrating peacefully twice a week since 22 February 2019 against an authoritarian regime. Have you considered offering your prize to the Algerian people for its struggle for freedom and dignity?
We are always looking for deserving candidates and would be delighted to receive nominations of people and organisations in Algeria who are creating structural changes. More information about the nomination process is available at rightlivelihood.org.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Johannes Mosskin?
Johannes Mosskin coordinates the daily work the Foundation’s international communications team which serves as a megaphone for the Laureates and helps them get their messages out. He provides strategic leadership in developing the work of the Foundation, with a focus on communications.
Before joining the Foundation, Johannes was the Executive Director of Doctors of the World Sweden. He has a background in PR and as an activist promoting human rights.
Published in American Herald Tribune February 12, 2020: https://ahtribune.com/interview/3879-johannes-mosskin.html