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Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on Wednesday 10th December in Paris Stphane Hessel receives the UNESCO/Bilbao prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. At its meeting in Bilbao in November The Prizes international jury emphasised his life-long commitment and extraordinary contribution to the promotion of a culture of human rights, justice and dignity, as well as his personal involvement in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UNESCO Etxea is very proud to present Stephane Hessel as laureate for this Prize.

The award ceremony will be held this coming 10th December at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, coinciding with International Human Rights Day and the ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The prize will be given by the Mayor of Bilbao, Iaki Azkuna, in the presence of the Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, and the French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights. The ceremony will also be attended by the writer Paulo Coelho and the pianist Joaqun Achucarro, Favorite Son of the City of Bilbao and the 2000 UNESCO Artist for Peace, who will offer a piano recital at the ceremony. A delegation from UNESCO Etxea will also attend, including the Director, Mikel Mancisidor, and the Chairman, Ruper Ormaza.

Award Ceremony Programme


The UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights carries on the UNESCO prize for Human Rights Education which was created in 1978 to mark the 30th anniversary of the UDHR. For this new period associated with the city of Bilbao, with which UNESCO Etxea is closely involved, the prize proposes a greater dimension and scope, including amongst its objectives to recognise not only those persons, organisations and institutions with outstanding contributions to human rights education, but also in the areas of human rights research, awareness and action.

Link to news on the Award


Stphane Hessels career is marked by his defence and promotion of human rights. Born in Berlin in 1917, at seven he moved with his mother and brother to Paris. He finished his studies in the United Kingdom and France at the beginning of the 2nd World War, after which he was sent to the Sarre front. In 1940 he made his first escape from the Bourbonne-les-Bains POW camp, and travelled to London were we joined Charles de Gaulles French government in exile. He returned to France in 1944 to join the French resistance, for which he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to the Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps, escaping from the latter one year later. At the end of the 2nd World War, Hessel started a long and fruitful diplomatic career holding a number of posts linked to the United Nations System, notably the Director of the United Nations and International Bodies Department in the French Foreign Ministry or French Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Active contribution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Of particular relevance during this period is his contribution to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As executive official of the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Hessel actively participated in drafting the first drafts and in the subsequent negotiations with the countries in order to seek consensus on its adoption. In 1970 he was appointed Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, which he performed up until 1974. Along the same lines of contributing to the development of the United Nations, in 1995 he participated in an international group of experts with the aim of reflecting on and making proposals for reforming this organisation. He advocated making the reform process an international democratisation instrument which would formally recognise each countrys rights and duties through what he called a Universal Declaration of Interdependence.

He was also a close collaborator with the French Prime Minister of the IV French Republic, Pierre Mends-France, and held various diplomatic posts in Saigon (1955) or Algiers (1964), as well as different public positions like the Interministerial Director for Cooperation and Development Aid (1981). That same year he received the lifetime position of Ambassador of France.

Experience in international relations

Tireless advocate of human rights, in 1962 he created the Association for Training of African and Malagasy Workers (AFTAM). He was later appointed member of three important French institutions: The French Higher Council for Integration, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and the French Higher Council for International Cooperation. He was also at almost 80 years of age a mediator during the occupation in 1996 of the Saint-Bernard church in Paris by illegal immigrants. He performed the same role two years later between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi.

In 2001 he took part in setting up the International Ethical, Scientific and Political College, where ex-leaders and leading international thinkers reflect on and make proposals on how to deal with some of the challenges currently facing our societies. Stephane Hessel is still working today in this area and performing important work relating to human rights.


Hessel is author of various distinguished publications including Citoyen sans frontires, conversations avec Jean-Michel Helvi (2008), Danse avec le sicle (2007), La posie comme ncessit. Mon beau navire, O ma mmoire (2006), or Dix pas dans le nouveau sicle (2002); and co-author of De l'immigration l'intgration (1997). Works like Ngationisme et totalitarisme (2000) or Dfenseurs des droits humains (2008), also include prefaces by him.

Photo: UNESCO / Danica Bijeljac

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With the support of
Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia / Diputación Foral de Bizkaia

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Gobierno Vasco