New Canada rights award honors diversity in "polarized world"

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 3 October 2017 12:00 GMT

A supporter rallying for the nation’s new peace agreement with FARC holds a tiny flag during a march in Bogota, Colombia, November 15, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

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"The world is increasingly polarized on ethnic, racial and religious issues. Many people choose to see the differences. I seek to understand the differences"

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Oct 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When rebels attacked the rainforest village of Bojaya with bombs in western Colombia 15 years ago, Leyner Palacios was among scores of residents who sought refuge inside a church and nearby wooden houses.

Palacios survived, but 32 relatives and friends did not when a cylinder bomb fired by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters hit the cluster of buildings.

In all nearly 90 people were killed in the attack in the impoverished Choco province - one of the worst massacres of civilians in Colombia's 52-year-civil war.

Since then Palacios, 41, has campaigned for the voices of war victims and marginalised Afro-Colombians to be heard, while promoting reconciliation among communities to heal the scars of war.

It is for this work that Palacios - along with Kenyan Alice Wairimu Nderitu and Daniel Webb of Australia - has won the inaugural 2017 Global Pluralism Award given by the Canada-based research centre the Global Centre for Pluralism.

"We've learnt that one way forward and to survive is to recover the broken social fabric and bring black and indigenous communities together to find solutions together," the campaigner and community leader told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"These communities have been excluded in a systematic way from the public agenda .. we've bet on reconciliation despite our great suffering," Palacios said.

Fellow winner Alice Wairimu Nderitu is known for her work as a conflict mediator, negotiating behind the scenes with African leaders to prevent violence, particularly ahead of elections, while ensuring women and young people play a leading role in building peace.

"The world is increasingly polarized on ethnic, racial and religious issues. Many people choose to see the differences. I seek to understand the differences," she said.

Human rights lawyer, Daniel Webb, won the award for his work in protecting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.

"On the issue of offshore refugee detention in Australia, we have completely lost our moral compass as a nation," Webb said.

Each winner will receive $40,000, with the awards presented in November in Canada's capital Ottawa.

The Global Centre for Pluralism award, founded by the Aga Khan, the wealthy leader of the Ismaili branch of Shi'ite Islam, and the Canadian government, honours people "for their efforts to build more inclusive societies, in which human diversity is valued and thrives."

"The rising tide of exclusion and division around the world is very troubling; it can lead to devastating social outcomes," John McNee, secretary general of the Global Centre for Pluralism, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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