Human rights defender from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Julienne Lusenge has been awarded the sixth annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity initiated by Armenia.
Lusenge has, for over 40 years, been working assiduously to help victims of wartime sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her bravery, effort to expose perpetrators and bring them to justice were finally rewarded at a special ceremony at San Lazzaro in the Venice lagoon on Saturday evening when she was declared winner of the one million dollars Aurora Prize.
She broke down in tears, saying she was excited and could not believe she would finally be able to do so much more for the many Congolese women who have been subjected to horrifying forms of violations.
Lusenge said after being honored with the award, “This prize is very important for all Congolese people, Congolese women and Congolese girls because now we will have enough money to support them”
Every year, the Aurora prize for Awakening Humanity recognises the extraordinary humanitarian work of individuals at a global level and the impact of their actions. Noubar Afeyam, one of the three co-founders of the Aurora Prize, described it as “a gift from the Armenian community to the world”.
Alongside Vartan Gregorian and Ruben Vardanyan, he instituted the award in 2015 on the centennial of the Armenian genocide to honour the memory of the victims, for eight years, the number of years in which one and a half a million Armenians were systematically killed on the orders of the Ottoman Turkish government.
Their idea was to recognise unsung modern-day heroes, just like those who helped save Armenians that survived. Noubar added that “we are trying to find people today that are saving the lives of others, just like people saved the lives of our ancestors.”
Four other Aurora humanitarians had been selected as finalists: Grégoire Ahongbonon, who helps people in West Africa with mental illness, Ruby Alba Castaño, a Colombian activist who protects the rights of peasants, Ashwaq Moharram, a Yemeni physician who provides life-saving support to starving people and Paul Farmer, an American medical anthropologist and physician.
The award was named in memory of Aurora Mardiganian, who was forced to witness the atrocities of the Armenian genocide. It was the first time the Aurora prize ceremony was held in Europe. Nobel peace laureates, Iran’s Shirin Ebadi and Liberia’s Leyman Gbowee, as well as the former Irish President, Mary Robinson graced the occasion.
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