Back Award Ceremony of the 2023 North-South Prize

As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


President of the Portuguese Republic,

President of the Portuguese Parliament,

Head of the Portuguese Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Chair of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre and Permanent Representative of Malta to the Council of Europe, dear Francesca,

President of the National Council for Human Rights of the Kingdom of Morocco, dear Ms Bouayach,

President and Secretary General of the Global Campus of Human Rights, dear Ms Gomez and Mr Nowak,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


It is a great honour and pleasure to be here today for this important ceremony –

In this wonderful and historic building –

And in this beautiful country, such a strong supporter of multilateralism and a rule based international order, this year celebrating 50 years of its carnation revolution.

We remain truly thankful to Portugal for hosting the North-South Centre, bolstering its work, and playing such a constructive and positive role in the Council of Europe.

This year we celebrate our 75th anniversary.

It is a moment to take stock of all that has been done to advance human rights, democracy and the rule of law over the course of three quarters of a century –

And to reflect upon what we must do to address the challenges to our values and democracy, that are so clear and so dangerous in our current times.

Some of these are what I will call long-standing –

And we see such trends all over Europe – to a larger or smaller degree.

Journalists are being harassed, arrested and even killed in Europe today.

Leading media outlets are being bought up by oligarchs and others, so they can be completely dominated by, or under the control of, a political leader or single political party.

Corruption is still almost everywhere in Europe.

Courts and judicial systems are also not seen as truly independent.

Elections are manipulated, and fewer and fewer people are actually voting.

Civil society is being curtailed and its leaders arrested.

Disinformation, fake news and lies are almost everywhere today on social media, polluting our minds.

Many young people are losing hope. Unemployment and economic hardship are certainly taking their toll, and at the same time many young people in Europe today are feeling disillusioned with political leaders and our political system.

On top of it, we have the dangers posed to our rights by pollution, climate change and the loss of biodiversity –

And also the many opportunities and risks that are associated with Artificial Intelligence –

And the increasingly polarised political environment – often fanned by extreme nationalism, populism and new, anti-rights movements –

Many young people in Europe today, who perhaps feel the impact most, and whose belief in democracy is so crucial for our future.

Action is indeed required to confront all of this and more –

And the Council of Europe is taking specific and tailored action. But this is certainly not enough.

We need partners.

Governments of course – they are essential.

But vitally important too is civil society –

Clever, strong and determined individuals – and their organisations – that highlight and address human rights violations on the ground –

Sometimes at great risk to themselves, their colleagues and their loved ones.

Their work is so vital, as their advocacy and actions change minds, cultures and laws –

And the list of North-South Prize laureates is in many ways a list of such game-changing actors.

Today, we celebrate two new additions to this list –

And the new North-South laureates certainly have extraordinary achievements to look back upon.

Amina Bouayach is the first woman to chair a human rights organisation in Morocco.

As leader of the Moroccan Organisation for Human Rights she has led many campaigns –

Including a tireless dedication to abolishing the death penalty –

Something that the Council of Europe has achieved across its 46 member states.

More than this, she has advocated for the rights of political prisoners and against torture and enforced disappearances –

And recently, she has also harnessed information technology to protect and promote human rights –

Establishing the WARAKATI website dedicated to the rights of Moroccan women of different faiths –

And a special website that promotes citizens observation of legislative elections.

Supporting civil society through democratic values – and democratic practice – is central to Ms Bouayach’s pioneering achievements.

And for all of your extraordinary work we are indeed most grateful.

Our second winner today is the Global Campus for Human Rights –

Represented today by its Secretary General Manfred Nowak and President Veronica Gomes.

It is also doing incredible work.

Supported by the European Union, it brings together eight regional programmes and 100 universities –

To form the world’s largest network of human rights organisations.

This ensures access to high quality human rights education for an extensive global community of academics, students and lawyers –

And also nurtures south-north dialogue in an important, educational context.

Alumni of the Global Campus are empowered with the skills and knowledge to embed human rights practice in their countries, around the world.

They hold some of the highest positions in national politics, international organisations and the legal profession around the world –

And they are helping us invest in a better, more humane future.

Dear friends,

I can only congratulate the two very worthy winners of this year’s North-South Prize.

They are bound together by their shared values and their hope for a better, fairer, rights-based world.

A better world to all of us.

I thank you.

Lisbon 21 May 2024
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