Why Malala Yousafzai deserves the Sakharov human rights prize

Malala survived a Taliban assault

Malala Yousafzai during her speech (CC European Parliament)

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban, is worthy of the Sakharov Prize for human rights she was awarded with today.

She did not only keep on fighting for equal education, but human rights in general with her criticism of US drone strikes.

Malala’s life took a dramatic turn when a Taliban gunman stormed on her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and shot her in the head in October 2012.

The then 15-year old girl survived the assault, but had to spend several months in hospitals after being transferred to Britain where she now lives with her family.

Malala had campaigned for equal education for Pakistani girls by, for instance, writing a blog about her situation for the BBC.

Today she was awarded with the prestigious Sakharov Prize in a ceremony at the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg.

“At only 16 years old, she is today the voice of millions of children and teens deprived from education”, said EP president Martin Schulz (full video of his speech).

Schulz said that since the assault one year ago Malala had become “a global icon” in her role as a campaigner and ambassador for equal education.

“I am hopeful the European Parliament will look beyond Europe to the suffering countries where people are still deprived of their basic rights, their freedom of thought is suppressed, freedom of speech is enchained,” Malala said at the Sakharov ceremony.

Malala’s full speech:

In my opinion she deserves the Sakharov Prize because she does not only fight for equal education, but human rights in general.

Although she told the BBC that she was enjoying her education in the UK, she did not shy away from criticising the Western powers because of their role in Pakistan: Most notably, she attacked US drone attacks on Pakistani soil in her book “I am Malala: The Girl who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban”.

Since 1988, the Sakharov Prize is awarded each year to “exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression“ by the European Parliament. It is named after Russian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov.

Former winners of the Sakharov Prize include Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Sakharov Prize – better late than never

Aung San Suu Kyi and EP president Martin Schulz (© European Union 2013)

Aung San Suu Kyi and EP president Martin Schulz (© European Union 2013)

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has finally received the Sakharov Prize she was awarded 23 years ago. In a special ceremony at the European Parliament its president Martin Schulz presented the human rights prize to her.

When she was nominated for the prize in 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi was held in house arrest over her role in pro-democracy protests in Myanmar.

Until her most recent release three years ago, she spent a total of 15 years in house arrest.

Among many other prizes, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Aung San Suu Kyi announced to run for presidency in Myanmar’s 2015 election after her party, National League for Democracy, won the parliamentary elections in 2012.

Since 1988, the Sakharov Prize is awarded each year to “exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression“ by the European Parliament. It is named after Russian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, the “father of the Russian hydrogen bomb”, who sought to raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear arms.