North-South Centre - European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity

2012 North-South Prize Ceremony

Mrs Deborah Bergamini
Chair of the North-South Centre

Mr President of the Portuguese Republic,
Mr President of the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic,
Honourable Members of the Assembly of the Republic,
Ms Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Distinguished Prize Winners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first of all express my gratitude and appreciation for the continued and resolute support of the authorities of Portugal to the North-South Centre. I would like more particularly to thank the President of the Republic, Mr Aníbal Cavaco Silva, and the President of the Assembly of the Republic, Ms Assunção Esteves, for their active enduring commitment to the values promoted by the Council of Europe and its North-South Centre.

It is also a great honour for me to welcome here our winners, two women and this is the first time: Ms Asma Jahangir from Pakistan and Monika Hauser from Italy, two extraordinary symbols of women engaged for human and women’s rights and democracy.

Ms. Monica Hauser has worked relentlessly to help traumatised women and girls around the world. She started by establishing a pilot therapy centre in the city of Zenica in the middle of the Bosnian War to provide gynaecological care, psychosocial counselling and legal assistance to women and girls, who suffered violent sexual, physical and psychological attacks. Similar centres exist now in many other places throughout the world.

Ms. Asma Jahangir has been actively engaged for the past 40 years to defend the rights of women, religious minorities and laborers, both in and out of the courtroom. She was a leading figure in the campaign to reform the controversial Hudood Ordinance, which allowed rape victims to be charged with adultery. Her work as U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions and U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief is highly recognized internationally.

Our laureates today have diverse expertise, but they are united by their devotion to human dignity and to women’s rights. The defence and promotion of women’s rights is a daily struggle which is never accomplished and which, on the contrary, is subjected to setbacks, also in western countries, which are in economic and spiritual crisis. Thus we are particularly alarmed by the news of the killing of Zara Shahid Hussein, senior politician in Pakistan which occurred on Sunday, reminding us how much needs to be done to ensure the security of women in politics.

Women’s rights, in fact, are perishable, that is why I am particularly proud of the fact that North-South Centre dedicates many of its activities to this issue. We are in the frontline of this struggle since no society can call itself “civil”, de it rich and prosperous, if women’s rights are not fully recognized.

As I said, the NSC has actively worked to promote women’s rights since 1994. A set of coherent activities – "The North-South process" as we call it, has been launched in Rome in October 2011 to promote the empowerment of women. Since then a Euro-Med Women network supporting the process grew to include over 600 members. Last year’s international annual conference in Istanbul focused more particularly on political and socio-economic empowerment. The centrality of women’s rights for democratic transformations was one of the main topics covered by Lisbon Forum 2012 on Arab Season. It was underlined that gender equality is essential for successful democratic reforms and for building inclusive societies.

This year’s programme of the Centre focuses in particular on empowerment of women in the public life. Specific activities are also foreseen to raise awareness about the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe and let me underline that this week the Italian Parliament has started the process to quick ratify it. We will so be the 5th state to have ratified the Convention.

After the current refocusing - better linking the NSC to Strasbourg Headquarters – the Centre will increasingly engage with women and youth in the South Mediterranean, using its privileged tools of democratic citizenship education and intercultural dialogue.

Lisbon with its Mediterranean soul powerfully transmits the spirit of discovering the other, bridging Europe to its neighbours.

As a voice of the Executive Committee of the Centre –a “quadrilogue” composed of representatives of members states, parliaments, local and regional authorities as well as the civil society, I would like to reiterate the primary political relevance of the North-South Centre for the Council of Europe neighbourhood policy and for the Mediterranean basin. Paying a tribute to Stéphane Hessel, former NSP laureate who passed away in February of this year, I would like to remind to all of us his memorable intervention about the NSC during the celebration of its 20th anniversary of the Centre.

Ladies and gentlemen

The achievement of the Centre was made possible by the small but highly motivated and dynamic NSC team, to which I want to congratulate and wish a full success for the future.

The NSP laureates are powerful symbols of the Centre’s noble mission.