Geneva, 29 September, 2014 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will present the Colombian women’s right network Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro – or Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future (Butterflies), the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award tonight at a ceremony in Geneva.
Based in the Pacific port city of Buenaventura, Butterflies, who are all volunteers, risk their lives to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse. So far they have helped over 1000 women and their families.
The Nansen Refugee Award is UNHCR’s top humanitarian honour. Since Eleanor Roosevelt became the first winner in 1954, more than 60 individuals, groups and organizations have been recognized for outstanding and dedicated work on behalf of displaced people.
Butterflies will be represented at the ceremony by three women; Gloria Amparo, Maritza Asprilla Cruz and Mery Medina.
Colombia is second only to Syria in the number of internally displaced people globally. Nowhere in the country is the devastation of the five decade armed conflict felt as acutely as in Buenaventura. This industrial port city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups and women are often their targets. The groups violate women and children to demonstrate their power and strength and frequently torture, rape or kill to exact revenge.
Drawing on only the most modest of resources, the women go about their work on foot or by bus or bicycle. As cautiously as they can, they move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. It is this work deep inside the communities that helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.
“These women are doing extraordinary work in the most challenging of contexts,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.” Each day they seek to heal the wounds of the women and children of Buenaventura and in doing so put their own lives at risk. Their bravery goes beyond words”.
UNHCR’s special envoy Actress Angelina Jolie has praised the work of the winners. As a staunch advocate for ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict, Jolie says Butterflies’ work is life-saving.
“The Mariposas draw on their strengths as women to help thousands of vulnerable people who would otherwise have no rights and no protection. By winning this award, I hope it helps more people everywhere to understand that we have to change attitudes to sexual violence, and to help end impunity for these crimes,” said Ms. Jolie.
The Award ceremony will feature a keynote speech from UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie (on video) and musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela will also perform at the ceremony.