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History      Geuzen Monument      Commemoration      Geuzen Medal      Geuzenpenning Foundation     
                                                     
Speech Frans Weisglas

Speech by Frans Weisglass, Chairman Geuzenpenning Foundation on the occasion of the presentation of the Geuzen Medal 2017 to Alice Nkom and Michel Togué in the Grote Kerk in Vlaardingen on 13 March 2017      

 

Family members of former Geuzen, Deputy Commissioner of the King, Madam Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls,  on behalf of the Geuzenpenning Foundation I bid you a very warm welcome.

Since 1987, human rights activists and organisations from around the world have received the Geuzen Medal in this church.  This afternoon we are privileged once again to be honouring two extraordinarily brave people. The board is proud that they are here with us today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2012, the Geuzen Medal was awarded to Gregory Shvedov, the man behind an independent news site about the Caucasus. He is an extremely courageous man, although he does not think so himself. Questions from the press concerning threats – as you know, not everyone can appreciate independent journalism in the Caucasus and Russia - he replied to airily in 2012 with ‘Well, what can you do about it? That’s why I try not to get too worried about it’.

However, it is an indisputable fact that Shvedov is being systematically threatened. On the fourth of January this year, the Chairman of the Chechen parliament made serious threats against him in public. Shvedov’s reaction to that was again typical of him. The threats, Shvedov reacted, were not only made against him personally, but in fact against all journalists who are trying to do their work in the Caucasus. Shortly thereafter a reaction followed from the Chechen representative of Human Rights, which was not exactly encouraging... Gregory Shvedov was only using the situation to promote his ‘scandalous internet publications’, he said.  

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are trying to assist Shvedov. On your chair you will find a card from Amnesty which you can use to protest against the threats that Shvedov has to undergo. And so, I beg of you, please fill in the card. We must not desert this courageous man.

 

On the subject of courageous people… On behalf of the board of the Geuzenpenning Foundation, I would like to extend a warm welcome to our winners. Could we please all give a warm round of applause for: Alice Nkom and Michel Togué!

It is difficult to imagine how hard their work as lawyers must be in Cameroon, to be opposed, bullied and threatened on a daily basis for defending lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It is outrageous that universal fundamental rights continue to be violated, that the government is actively tracking down LGBT’s and persecuting them. That Alice Nkom and Michel Togué continue to fight against the current to help people who are being persecuted just because they are not heterosexual is therefore invaluable. How lonely it must be when no one will defend you, when every door that you knock on is immediately slammed shut.

But what is the situation here in the Netherlands? Do transgender people never suffer from discrimination? Last month an article appeared in a Dutch newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, about transgender people in the workplace.  A substantial number of transgender people in the Netherlands say that they are discriminated against at work because of their background, according to a study carried out by the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht in cooperation with Maastricht University, Transgender Network Netherlands and GenderTalent, a foundation for career counsellors of transgender people. ‘As a man I received a more honest wage and I clearly had more respect,’ said one of the participants of the study. Another participant said: ‘My plan to work in future as a female employee was a reason to fire me.” Many transgender people in the Netherlands find themselves sitting at home, unemployed.  That is also outrageous.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, I will now read the text of the award decision:

In accordance with the objective laid down in the Articles of Association the board of the Geuzenpenning Foundation has unanimously awarded the Geuzen Medal 2017 to:

 

ALICE NKOM and MICHEL TOGUÉ

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.This fundamental right was recorded by the United Nations in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights shortly after the horrors of the Second World War. Despite this enshrinement in international law, this article is under severe pressure in Cameroon.Homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are systematically discriminated against, arrested and persecuted.

It is therefore extremely admirable that Alice Nkom and Michel Togué are passionately defending these fundamental rights, as two of the few lawyers in their country to do so. While carrying out their work, they are seriously obstructed, insulted and threatened. Yet, they continue tirelessly with their invaluable work. And they are also achieving success. For instance, the number of convictions in Cameroon has dropped sharply over the last few years; a change appears to be afoot.

Alice Nkom and Michel Togué are unquestionably making a difference. They are demonstrating that two people with a belief can move mountains. By awarding them the Geuzen Medal, the board expresses its great appreciation for the courageous dedication of Alice Nkom and Michel Togué. They are more than worthy recipients of the Geuzen Medal.

 

Vlaardingen, 13 March 2017

 

On behalf of the Geuzenpenning Foundation,

 

the Chairman,                        the Secretary,                                    the Treasurer, 

F.W. Weisglas                        A.M.M. Jetten MSc                          J.H.M. Lindenbergh



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