The Student Peace Prize - the past winners

Teachers, prisoners and a poet are among the former recipients of the Student Peace Prize. With its anniversary closing in, we take a look back at the laureates from the last 20 years.

Tekst: Margret Meek, Marte Sæther Ottesen

The International Student Festival has been running since 1990 and is held every second year. Today, it is the world’s largest international student festival with participants from over a 100 countries. A peace prize is awarded during the festival, to either a student or a student organization who have fought for peace, or someone who has worked to improve education. This year, the Head of the Prize is Ingeborg Albert Rikheim.

– The student peace prize has changed a lot since 1999. For 20 years, the prize have shown students how commitment can change society and challenge world leaders. It has shown that students are not just the leaders of tomorrow, but the ones of today, says Rikheim.

The prize is handed out on behalf of all Norwegian students, and students are in charge of the ceremony. This means that the award is always evolving.

– On our 10th anniversary, we took a look back; we had to find out if the prize actually meant something to the previous winners. We got in touch and everyone responded positively. Not only did it make them feel motivated and heard, but they felt that their work was legitimized and made real, as well as an international protection. They know that Norwegian students are not just supporting their fellow students, but paying attention, she explains further.

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1999 – Antero Benedito Da Silva

Antero Benedito Da Silva was awarded the first Student Peace Prize for his non-violent fight against the indonesian occupation of the island East Timor. He was the founder of East Timor Student Solidarity Council (ETSSC), a group of students aimed at spreading knowledge and working towards independence from Indonesia.

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Da Silva grew up in an occupied country but grew up hoping for independence. When he started studying, he took matters into his own hands by starting the ETSSC, gathering students from all over East Timor to discuss independence, despite facing confrontation with both the military and the government.

Today he teaches peace and conflict studies at the University of Timor Leste, as well as being the Head of the Peace Center i Dili. Da Silva still strives towards helping the young country stabilize. He is said to have played a vital part in helping the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste gain its independence in 2002, as well as the positive developments in the young country in the years following.

2001 – Min Ko Naing

Min Ko Naing, along with All Burma Federation of Student Unions, was given the prize in 2001 for their nonviolent fight for democracy in Burma. They fought to improve the conditions in the country and to create a better education system.

Ko Naing, from Mudon, Burma, began catching an interest in politics while he studied at University of Yangon in the 1980s. He became involved in artistic satire, raising questions about the military government and the lack of democracy in Burma. With the help of like-minded students, he formed a secret student union to discuss the political situation, despite that this was outlawed.

His political activism rose, organizing rallies, strikes and underground movements to fight for the freedom of arrested student activist and democracy. For these efforts he spent time in prison. It was for this that he was awarded him the peace prize, citing that he has been «trying to improve the conditions in a country where there is a huge failure in the educational system».

In 2012 he was released from prison, along with other activists. After he won the peace prize, he has also been recognized by other awards, such as the Civil Courage Prize and the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.,

2003 – Zimbabwe National Student Union (Zinasu)

The third prize went to Zimbabwe National Student Union (Zinasu) for fighting for students’ interests, going against the authorities in Zimbabwe. The organization was also active in illuminating human rights issues, and problems related to poverty and aids, as they cited these challenges as obstacles for getting an education.

At the time of the award, the group represented over 350,000 students from all over the country. They worked to promote democracy and freedom of speech, despite risking reprisals from the autocratic regime for their actions.

– Such international accolade goes a long way in reassuring the existence of solidarity, which itself stands as a fundamental pillar in the quest for a better Zimbabwe – particularly when facing an authoritarian dictatorship, says finance and administration officer Authorson Fidaz Kandawasvika in Zinasu to Under Dusken in an e-mail.,

2005 – Association for Colombian University Students (ACEU)

Since its founding in 1998, the organization Association for Colombian University Students (ACEU) has been working to preserve public universities in the continuing privatization of education in Colombia. The ACEU won the Student Peace Prize for their work and non-violent engagement in ongoing conflicts in the Colombian politics.

The civil war in Colombia made involvement in student activism dangerous, but despite the fact that organization members were arrested, tortured and even killed, they continued to stand up for students' rights. Their goal was to create a safer Colombia and improve education in the country.

The organization is still active today, and celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.,

2007 – Charm Tong

In 2007, the peace prize went to Charm Tong on grounds of being an activist of the exiled Burmese opposition. Tong also founded Shan Woman’s Rights and Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), and has fought for giving women a safer place for education.

Tong has been an activist for a long time: as a child she was affected by political unrest and spent time in a refugee camp. She started fighting for human rights already at the age of sixteen, and spoke at the UN’s human rights commission just the following year, highlighting the issues Shan women faced in Burma.

This experience laid the groundwork for SWAN, which gained international recognition for a report on how the Burmese military used sexual violence as a weapon of war. It got the attention of many prominent establishments, including the White House, and it also put her on ISFiT’s radar.

Today, Tong is a teacher, leading the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth in Northern Thailand. She remains an active activist for both human rights and refugees. On social media, she is calling out injustice and human rights violations.

2009 – Elkouria «Rabab» Amidane

In 2009, Elkouria «Rabab» Amidane won the prize due to her fight for an independent Western Sahara. She had brought attention to how the Sahrawi people have been mistreated by the Moroccan government in hopes of bringing Western Sahara independence.

Amidane felt the consequences of the Moroccan occupation and found that Sahrawi students was discriminated against when she travelled to Morocco for university education. Both Amidane and her brother are human rights defenders and have been arrested and tortured for their activism. Still, she remained outspoken about the issues Western Sahara faces, and has since worked on spreading videos of peaceful protesters being attacked. It was for this work that she was awarded the peace prize.

In addition to the peace prize, Amidane also won the Ordfront Democracy Prize from Sweden, where she also moved after having to flee her country. She has gained attention from large organizations, and her pictures of Sahrawians being abused and tortured has even been used by Amnesty International.,

2011 – Duško Kostić

Duško Kostić was awarded the prize based on his educational efforts aimed at building understanding between different ethnic groups. He strived to help more Roma children to finish their education, by visiting families and encouraging them to send their children to school, and by making schools more aware of the Roma culture and how they could help to preserve it.

Kostić is from Croatia, a country that still struggles with the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars, and many are still treated based on prejudices formed during the war – also within the educational system. This is where Kostić has worked, determined to build bridges through education.

Today he is the founder of Association of Roma Friendship, also called Luna, which focuses on topics like women and children’s rights and conflict resolution. In his village Beli Manastir, he is viewed as a representative of Roma people.

2013 – Majid Tavakoli

Majid Tavakoli from Iran won on the basis of his work towards students’ right to participating in politics. He is part of the Islamic Students’ Association and has been arrested several times for his political activism.

His activism inspired more movements of similar nature, after he was arrested in 2009 and photos circulated of him wearing a hijab in custody, hundreds of Iranian men posted pictures of themselves in similar attire in solidarity. This inspired a campaign that called for mistreatment of Iranian prisoners to end.

Tavakoli was imprisoned in 2009 and given a nine year sentence after speaking out publicly against the government on Iranian Student Day. Despite facing violence and torture in prison, he continued to fight by writing letters advocating for students right to participate in politics. His sentence was commuted in 2015, but he is barred from engaging in political activities and leaving Iran.,

2015 – Ayyat Al-Qurmezi

Ayyat Al-Qurmezi, a former student at the University of Bahrain Teaching Institute, was awarded the Student Peace Prize for her struggle for democracy, political reform and human rights in Bahrain. The peace prize committee hoped that Al-Qurmezi’s display of courage and devotion to peace should inspire students and artist all over the world.

Al-Qurmezi is famous for using poetry to express her views on the political and social conditions in Bahrain, and her criticism of the royal family got her incarcerated in 2011. She endured torture and discrimination before being released after a few months, due to pressure from multiple international organizations.

She is still active in speaking out at various events.

2017 – Hajer Sharief

In 2017, the prize went to Hajer Sharief, a student from Libya and co-founder of the Together We Build It organization. She was also recognized for cooperating with the Kofi Annan Foundation, a non-profit working towards a more peaceful world, as well as the UN. Sharief won the Student Peace Prize for her organization’s hard work to include women in the peacebuilding process after the civil war in Libya in 2011.

The committee stated that Shariefs ability to create dialogue between different groups of people in a unstable country, and her involvement in the international political environment, had made her work important both in Libya and the rest of the world.

Today she continues to be an activist, still working with Together We Build It and drawing attention from organizations such as the UN.

2019 – Fasiha Hassan

This year the prize has been awarded to Fasiha Hassan for leading the non-violent fight for easier access to higher education in Africa, through the movement #FeesMustFall. She was recognized for her fight for more people to obtain higher education in face of hostility from the police.

While Hassan grew up after apartheid ended, there are still remnants of the old system in the country in form of economic inequality. She became aware of the country’s poverty issues, and the discrimination in education that came as a result of high tuition fees at an early age. Hassan became increasingly aware of this when she started university and saw the issues first hand, starting to fight against the rising fees and raising awareness around it. Her hopes is that higher education rates will benefit the society.

Hassan has previously spoken to Under Dusken, saying;

– The main goal of the movement is the realization of a free, decolonized and high quality education. This is the first time since the end of apartheid we are seeing a mass mobilization of students under one cause in South Africa.