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Chadian Activist Receives Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

A Chadian woman who founded one of her country's few human rights organizations recently visited Washington to receive a prestigious human rights award.

Delphine Djiraibe says she has been called an enemy of the state by the Chadian government. And now she is called the newest Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate.

The lawyer and co-founder of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights is being recognized for her battle for fair distribution of Chad's oil revenues and her challenge of the government in building an oil pipeline without regards to environmental concerns.

U.S. Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of the late Robert F. Kennedy for whom the prize is named, praised Ms. Djiraibe for her campaign.

"Heroes like Delphine remind us that in spite of overwhelming odds, dedicated individuals have the power themselves to advance those ideals to improve their own lives and the life of their nation and their world," said Senator Kennedy.

The World Bank helped pay for the 10,000-kilometer pipeline, saying oil revenue would reduce poverty. It struck a deal with the Chadian government that 85 percent of the oil revenue must be spent on services such as education, health care and road improvements.

For a variety of reasons, that has not happened, but Ms. Djiraibe pledges she is determined to make sure the oil companies, the World Bank and Chad's government live up to the agreement.

In a U.S. Senate building, flanked by bright flags bearing the names of previous award winners, Ms. Djiraibe addressed an assembly of politicians, members of the Kennedy family, and colleagues from Chad who shrieked in delight.

Ms. Djiraibe says she was very emotional when she learned she won the award, which includes a check for $35,000 for her work and a sculpture of Robert F. Kennedy, a committed human rights activist and former Presidential candidate.

"My thoughts went right away to my fellow activists in Chad, who, like me, work in a very hostile and dangerous environment," she said. "And to the local population from the oil region who are suffering from the violations of human rights and the degradation of the environment as a consequence of the Chad-Cameroon oil exportation and pipeline project."

The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, which gave the award to Ms. Djiraibe, says the presentation ceremony is the start of a lifelong relationship with the organization. The center is offering Ms. Djiraibe a network of volunteers and experts who will help advance her human rights work in Chad.