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Democracy Activists in Sudan, Mideast, Belarus Honored - 2004-02-04

The World Movement for Democracy is giving awards to several organizations for working for democracy in Sudan, West Africa, Belarus and the Middle East.

The World Movement for Democracy awards are called Democracy Courage Tributes. The group says all the recipients have shown exceptional courage in their work for freedom and democracy, often struggling in isolation and against some of the most difficult challenges to democracy and human rights in the world today.

One award goes to the democracy movement in Sudan, a collection of groups working for human rights, peace and democracy in the midst of a 20-year civil war. One member of that coalition is the Badya Center for Integrated Development, which is represented at the Durban meeting by Intisar Abdelsadig. She says the center's main goal is to unify people across ethnic and religious lines in a very divided country.

"We are doing like a peace tournament for youth from different clans and from different warring zones, to meet together in one city and to be sensitized about peace and conflict resolution. And then after that to play soccer," she said, on mixed teams."It's very interesting. And they like it very much. It releases tension, misunderstanding, and it's a tool of trust building."

Another Democracy Tribute goes to a multi-national effort known as the Mano River Union Civil Society Movement, or MRU for short. It works across borders in several West African countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, pressing for peace and democracy in a region that has been torn apart by war and dictatorships.

Liberian activist Saa Philip-Joe says working together across national boundaries has been an effective way for the activists from the three countries to pressure their governments for change.

"The unique thing about the MRU in short is that we share the same culture," he said. "For instance, I'm Kisi, and we have my ethnic group in both Sierra Leone and Guinea, just split by the borders. And they have similar tribes, like the Pele, the Lama, and many others who fall within the same category. They are the same people. We are living in two countries or three countries, so we have a lot of things in common. So we thought as a civil society we should be able to pressure our leaders to live in common, rather than live in a chaotic situation."

The World Movement for Democracy is a network of democracy activists from more than 100 countries, who came together in 1999. This is their third international conference.

Two other groups receiving awards from the Movement Wednesday are working toward peace and understanding in the Middle East. One is a Palestinian civic-education group known as Panorama, which among other projects helps young people produce radio and television programs on issues that affect them. The other is the Israeli-Palestine Center for Research and Information, which is the only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think tank in the world.

The final recipients of a Democracy Courage Tribute are members of the democracy movement in Belarus. The world democracy movement says Belarusians are fighting for political and economic reform, as well as freedom of expression, in an atmosphere of intense repression.