George Clooney has presented a $1.1 million humanitarian award to a Burundi Catholic woman who offered sanctuary to thousands of orphans.
Clooney presented the first Aurora Prize, an award recognising an individual’s work to advance humanitarian causes, to Marguerite Barankitse.
“By recognising Marguerite Barankitse’s courage, commitment and sacrifice, I am hopeful that she can also inspire each one of us to think about what we can do to stand up on behalf of those whose rights are abused and are in most need of our solidarity or support,” Clooney said.
Barankitse, 59, began her work during Burundi’s civil war in the early 1990s. Clooney said she was a “reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice”.
Many of Barankitse’s own family and friends were killed in Burundi’s conflict, some “right before my eyes,” she said, but “I had my (Catholic) faith and I kept hearing the Lord’s message, and it was ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you,'” Barankitse told Catholic News Service.
She added: “If God had not been with me, I would have probably tried to take my own life. We need to support each other as a human family, and to say ‘never again!’ No more dictators who oppress the people and receive money and arms from the international community. How is it even possible that these tyrants exist in the 21 century? We must take appropriate measures.”
Before he presented the award, Clooney reminded the audience that Adolf Hitler once reportedly said: “Who remembers Armenia?” Clooney said: “The whole world.”
Armenian philanthropists Barankitse selected her for the award. The killing of more than 200 Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1915 is regarded as the start of the massacre that is widely viewed by historians as the first genocide of the 20th century in which they estimate 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered.
Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman Empire, vehemently rejects that the deaths constitute genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest. Clooney has been a prominent voice in favour of countries recognising the killings as genocide, which the US hasn’t done.
Three of the four finalists for the award were Catholic. The others shortlisted were Fr Bernard Kinvi, a priest who saved 1,500 Muslims from slaughter in the Central African Republic; Dr Tom Catena, the sole surgeon for 750,000 people in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, who said his work is inspired by St Francis of Assisi; and Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who has worked to end bonded labour in Pakistan.