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Singer Angelique Kidjo Wins Award for Human Rights Work

Singer Angelique Kidjo at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 near Paris, France, in 2015.
Singer Angelique Kidjo at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 near Paris, France, in 2015.
Singer Angelique Kidjo Wins Award for Human Rights Work
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Benin-born musician Angelique Kidjo has won a major human rights award, along with three African youth activist movements.

Kidjo and the groups were honored for their work to defend freedom of expression and peaceful protest. The groups are Y'en a marre (Fed Up), le Balai Citoyen (The Citizen's Broom), and Lutte pour Changement (LUCHA).

The organization Amnesty International announced the winners Wednesday. It praised Kidjo and the groups for their work in Africa and around the world. Amnesty says the award honors those who have shown exceptional courage in standing up to injustice. It says winners also influence others to act the same.

The Amnesty International honor is called the Ambassador of Conscience Award. Past winners include leaders Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Artists who have been honored including U2 band leader Bono, singer Joan Baez, and Chinese dissident Ai Wei Wei.

Spreading ideas through music

Angelique Kidjo fled Benin in the 1980s after being pressured to perform for the country's repressive government. She has since gained worldwide fame both for her music and her activism.

She has worked to support free expression, education for young women and birth certificates for children.

She has lived in New York City for many years.

The singer has also won a Grammy award for her music.

Kidjo spoke last year with VOA's French to Africa service. She said music helps her spread her messages of freedom and human dignity.

She said, "I can't be in everyone's home physically -- my music will be there. And that's the power of an artist, compared to a politician. Because no one can give a speech as brilliant as what we can put on a CD."

The Grammy winner said she has hope that African nations struggling with corruption can solve their problems through democratic methods.

Kidjo said, "The day when the people -- the people of Africa get up and say 'we're tired of this stupidity,' it will be everyone together who will decide, not me."

Kidjo said the honor will help her stay active in human rights issues.

Grassroots activism

A group of Senegalese rappers and reporters won the award for their effort to get young people to register to vote. The group known as Y'en a marre, or Fed Up, has been active in teaching peaceful protest methods. They also pressure Senegal’s government to carry out land reforms, an issue important to the rural poor.

Burkina Faso's le Balai Citoyen, or the Citizen's Broom, is a movement co-founded by reggae artist Sams'K Le Jah and rapper Smockey (Serge Bambara). It has been active in voter education. It also teaches young people to speak against political corruption.

In a public comment about the award, Smockey said, “We want to reaffirm that our convictions remain as strong and safe as our dreams, which underlie them."

Lutte pour Changement, or LUCHA, is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The community-based activist group works on social issues, human rights, and the protection of civilians from armed groups. DRC officials have jailed nine activists linked to the group. Amnesty International called on the DRC government in February to release the LUCHA activists.

Amnesty International will hold the awards ceremony on May 28 in Dakar, Senegal.

I'm Marsha James.

Reuters reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

courage –n. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous

injustice –n. unfair treatment, a situation where a person’s rights are ignored

dignity –n. the quality of being worthy of honor or respect

brilliant – adj. very impressive or successful

convictions –n. a strong belief or opinion