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Colombian Women's Rights Network to Receive World's Top Refugee Award

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Colombian Women's Rights Network to Receive World's Top Refugee Award

UNHCR announce 2014 Nansen Refugee Award
12 September 2014

The 2014 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award is the Colombian women's rights group, Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro - or Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future (Butterflies), whose members risk their lives to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse.

Based in the Pacific coastal city of Buenaventura, Butterflies, who are all volunteers, have so far helped over 1000 women and their families.

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.

"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".

High Commissioner Guterres said, "The situation in Buenaventura illustrates the devastating impact of conflict on families and how essential the work of Butterflies is".

"In their battle to gain territory, illegal armed groups in Buenaventura aim to destroy the social fabric of communities. They violate the most vulnerable by sexual assault, kidnap and murder. Butterflies' volunteers take the displaced and abused under their wing and help them to reclaim their lives and assert their rights," he added.

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.

Women in the poorest areas of Buenaventura are often afraid to report sexual violence and the few women who do so remain unprotected because they often live alongside their aggressors. Building trust in this kind of environment is a slow and challenging process. Butterflies operates on the principal of "comadreo", which has special significance in Afro-Colombian culture, uniting respect, trust solidarity and confidentiality.

The cornerstone of the assistance Butterflies provides is the life skills and rights training workshops they organize. Here women come together, and realizing they are not alone in their suffering- slowly regain their self-esteem and strength.

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 announcement coincides with the release of a special report, Buenaventura, Colombia: Brutal Realities, published by the Norwegian Refugee Council that shows that sexual violence is a systematic and a widespread practice in the Colombian armed conflict.

Award Ceremony

Butterflies will receive the Nansen Refugee Award Medal at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 September. The group will be represented by three women; Gloria Amparo, Maritza Asprilla Cruz and Mery Medina.

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 Traorè. Acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela from Mexico will also perform at the ceremony.

Journalists can access a multi-media package through this link:

The package contains:

  • B-roll for broadcasters.
  • A full photo story of Butterflies and their work and biographies of Gloria Amparo, Maritza Asprilla Cruz and Mery Medina.
  • Case studies of abused and displaced women helped by Butterflies.
  • Further information about the Nansen Refugee Award.

About the Nansen Refugee Award

In its 60th year, the Award recognizes extraordinary humanitarian work on behalf of refugees, internally displaced or stateless people. The award includes a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize. In close consultation with UNHCR, the laureate uses the monetary prize to fund a project that compliments their existing work.

Nominations are now open for the 2015 Award.

For more information:

The Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony

The Nansen Refugee Award ceremony is the most visible element of the broader Nansen Refugee Award programme. The ceremony acts as an advocacy platform which allows UNHCR and its partners to raise awareness and support for the refugee cause. It not only provides a forum for informal diplomacy among high-ranking officials, but also an opportunity to highlight the extraordinary humanitarian work of those who go beyond the call of duty on behalf of refugees, internally displaced or stateless people. The ceremony is underwritten by UNHCR and its partners; the Swiss and Norwegian governments, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the IKEA Foundation. The ceremony will be hosted by Isabelle Kumar of Euronews.

For further Information:

For interview requests, further information on the Nansen Refugee Award and to attend the ceremony

In Geneva, Stephen Pattison [email protected]. Tel: +41 22 739 8275 / Mob: +41 (0)795008774

In Bogota, Francesca Fontanini [email protected] Tel: +571 658 06 00/ext 156/ Mob: +57 312 457 28 04

In Geneva, Babar Baloch [email protected] Tel: +41 22 739 8830 / Mob: +41 (0)795570106

In Geneva, Francis Markus [email protected] Tel: +41 22 739 8396 / Mob: +41 (0)793011966

For further information on the artists performing at the Nansen Award Ceremony

Alison Tilbe, Manager, Global Goodwill Ambassador programme: [email protected]

The report Buenaventura, Colombia: Brutal Realities will be available from 00:01 CET Friday September 12 and can be downloaded from the Norwegian Refugee Council website here:

For advanced copies of the report please call: Hanne Eide, NRC Andersen Media adviser, +47 99 56 29 48

UNHCR's Global Media Contact List