On November 26, 2012 Franç ois Hollande, the President of the French Republic, awarded Souhayr Belhassen, the President of the International Federation for Human Rights with the distinction of Knight of the Legion of Honour. He dedicated this award to all FIDH activists, especially those who are kept in prison, including the vice-president, Ales Bialiatski.
Full texte of François Hollande greeting speech:
Souhayr Belhassen,One word defines you: independence. Your fierce determination not to give up and not to give in. Your fidelity to your principles and, above all, to yourself and your country, Tunisia. Your Tunisia is a Tunisia of freedom, a Tunisia of hospitality, a Tunisia of secularity. That is what you reflected, together with Sophie Bessis, in your brilliant biography of Bourguiba. The Tunisia whose people in the spring of 2011, rose up and set the will of the Arab people ablaze. Independence means dignity, and independence has been the foundation of your commitment since 1984, when you joined the Tunisian human rights leagues. Human rights mean the right to think and to write. That is what you set out to do, first at Reuter’s press agency and then at the periodical Jeune Afrique, before creating your own magazine, which the then incumbent Tunisian regime could not abide. Human rights for you mean the right to free and sovereign self-determination for all people. The right to recognise borders and free elections – the best remedies to collective misfortune. This principle has been your guide for peace, most notably in Palestine. Human rights for you mean women’s rights. Since petitioning to support Algerian women in 1993 until the “call to Arab women for dignity and equality” launched by you on 8 March 2012, you have been accompanied by a person of great conscience, Shirin Ebadi, to whom you will always be grateful. Human rights, for you, are not dependant on culture; they do not change according to latitude or civilisation. Rights are flagrantly infringed by those seeking to designate them as ‘relative’. It was in honour of this simple precept that in 2007 you were made President of the International Federation for Human Rights, the first woman to assume this role. More remarkable still is the work that you have been carrying out for nearly six years now. You have enhanced FIDH’s presence around the world, especially in Asia. You have strengthened the bonds between 164 member organisations of FIDH; you have called this “inter-regionality”, and you have made its achievement a universal struggle. You stand with victims. You empower them to stand up for their rights before international courts and justice departments in their own countries. You defend them – as you did particularly in Guinea in 2009 and Côte d’Ivoire in 2010. Through you, I am saluting all FIDH activists, people who often pay the highest price for their courage. In this I include your Vice-President, Mr. Bialiatski, currently imprisoned in Belarus; your Deputy Secretary General Nabil Rajab, currently in prison in Bahrain, and all the members of your institution who are behind bars today simply for asking that justice be done. At the eve of your next world congress, which will be held in Tunis – of course – in March 2013, on behalf of the French Republic, I want to reiterate the strong bonds which unite France and FIDH. The first president in FIDH’s history was Victor Basch. He was a hero of the Resistance. Your Secretariat is based in Paris. Together, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, let us wage our common struggle to secure the liberation of activists, particularly those arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo; but let us also, mobilise against the massacres, especially those in the Kivus in the DRC, where women are particularly threatened. Today, by awarding you this distinction, the French Republic reiterates its unwavering commitment to respect for human rights throughout the world.