By Paul M. Sparrow, Director, FDR Library.
On January 6, 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address. He had just been elected to an unprecedented third term in office, and he decided to use this speech to articulate his vision for the future in the face of a global war between totalitarianism and democracy. He outlined four freedoms that were critical to a peaceful world: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.
As a part of the FDR Centennial Celebration, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, January 30, 1982, the International Four Freedom Awards were created to recognize and honor those individuals who personified the freedoms that Pres. Roosevelt articulated so eloquently.
The awards are bestowed by the Roosevelt Institute in New York, and the Roosevelt Foundation in Middelburg, Netherlands. The awards ceremony alternates between the two countries. This year the awards recognize a range of people who reflect the complex world we live in today.
Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has been selected to receive the International Four Freedoms Award in 2016. She was chosen because of her remarkable leadership across a range of crisis including the financial collapse, the Russian takeover of Crimea and the Ukrainian peace talks, and the great immigrant migration currently roiling Europe. It is her moral leadership in the face of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim movement that most reflects the work of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Chancellor Merkel is committed to protecting those fleeing the brutal wars in the Middle East and Africa, despite fierce political opposition.
Previous winners of the Four Freedoms Award include Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, General Kofi Annan and Harry Truman.
The Freedom of Speech Award is being given to Mazen Darwish, the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the founder of syriaview.net, he had been an outspoken champion for independent reporting in the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. His efforts to promote human rights, and to report on torture, arbitrary arrests and human rights violations by the Syrian regime shows true courage.
The award for Freedom of Religion is being presented to three members of the clergy from the Central African Republic. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Omar Kobine Layama and Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou have worked tireless in the cause of peace and reconciliation in a country that has been wracked with civil war and violence. They champion an an interfaith dialogue that brings together those who might otherwise find themselves on the opposite of the conflict. They have created an organization, the Interfaith Peace Platform, that brings together Muslims, Catholics and Protestants in a quest for peace.
Dr. Denis Mukwege was selected to receive the Freedom from Want Award for his efforts to help survivors of the horrific sexual violence taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was the founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, a center for the treatment of both the physical and psychological wounds of weaponized rape. It also provides legal and counseling services to help the victims reenter a society that shuns victims of abuse. Dr. Mukwege also fights to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice, despite the extreme danger those efforts put him in personally.
In a world filled with angst about terrorism, climate change and poverty, this year’s Freedom from Fear Award will go to an organization rather than an individual. Human Rights Watch truly fights for the ideals expressed by Eleanor Roosevelt in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their efforts around the globe document abuses and bring those atrocities to the attention of the world. They shine a bright spotlight on human rights violations, gender discrimination, torture, corruption and the grossly immoral use of children as soldiers and sexual slaves.
This year’s winners stand on the shoulders of a generation of great leaders who have been honored with the Four Freedom Awards. They include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai, Daw Aung Sam Suu Kyi, Bill Moyers, Mike Wallace, Rep. John Lewis and the first winner in 1982, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is proud to be associated with this important Award that promotes the legacy of FDR’s vision for a peaceful world.