|© UNICEF France/2009|
|At the Legion d’honneur award ceremony in Paris (from left): former UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, UNICEF France President Jacques Hintzy and former UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah.|
By Véronique Taveau
PARIS, France, 7 April 2009 – UNICEF’s former Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, and former Deputy Executive Director, Rima Salah, received the Legion d’honneur at a special ceremony in Paris today.
The award was presented by Alain Joyandet, France’s Secretary of State in charge of Cooperation and the French-speaking world.
France’s oldest and highest distinction, the Legion d’honneur is awarded to outstanding individuals who have contributed in their own way to public life. It was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in May 1802 and first bestowed on 15 July 1804.
“The Legion d’honneur is a recognition of the intense and tireless contribution to the work you have done over the years spent at the head of UNICEF to fight discrimination against children and advocate for the recognition of their rights,” said Mr. Joyandet. “The Government of France would like to pay tribute to the immense efforts that Ms. Bellamy and Ms. Salah have made to children during their tenure in office but also beyond it, and to their commitment to the cause of children all over the world.”
Bellamy: Children’s freedom, development and dignity
Carol Bellamy spent 10 years as the head of UNICEF, focusing on five priorities: immunizing every child; getting all girls and boys into school (and ensuring that all schools offer quality basic education); reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and its impact on young children; fighting for the protection of children from violence and exploitation; and introducing early childhood programmes in every country.
During her tenure, Ms. Bellamy travelled extensively all over the world – from Liberia to Sierra Leone, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Bosnia to China, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Sudan – visiting both developed and developing countries.
In her travels, Ms. Bellamy witnessed the impact of war on children and the massive displacement of populations. She saw the fear and uncertainty that come with the threat of war, as children try to cope with the loss of family, home and community.
Ms. Bellamy was fearless in confronting leaders who were failing to protect children. She repeatedly said that it was a child’s right not only to survive but to thrive, to not become a victim of HIV/AIDS, to not be exploited or abused.
“Being at the head of UNICEF was an honour and a privilege, and I can think of no work that is more vital to humanity than working to ensure that children everywhere survive their early years and grow up with health, dignity and peace,” she said upon receiving he Legion d’honneur. “It is on behalf of all the children around the world, that I accept this award with deep appreciation”
Salah: Ending violence against girls and women
A key issue for Rima Salah was violence against women and girls and its effect on the social and economic development of countries, including their opportunity to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
Over the 20 years she spent with UNICEF, Ms. Salah was a strong advocate for fighting violence against children – always focussing on the imperative to protect children from violence, trafficking, discrimination and female genital mutilation.
She was also closely involved in a February 2007 international conference in Paris on the situation of children involved in armed forces and armed groups. The event, ‘Free Children from War’, was organized by the French Government and UNICEF.
French Minister of Foreign Affairs Philippe Douste-Blazy and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman co-presided at the conference, which led to the Paris Principles – a detailed set of guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and providing effective assistance to those already involved with armed groups or forces.
“We should all work for the cause of children, particularly the children that live in countries that are in situations of war,” Ms. Salah said when she received her distinction. “We have to work together to give them back their childhood and their hope, to protect them from violence, to give them what they need.”
A great honour for UNICEF
“This prestigious title of chevalier of the Legion d’honneur, granted to two former senior UNICEF representatives, symbolizes the most prestigious recognition of humanitarian achievement and also recognizes the significance of children’s rights and the work accomplished by UNICEF,” said the President of the French National Committee for UNICEF, Jacques Hintzy.
“It reminds us that children must be at the centre of our work. and that we need to advocate for the cause of children everywhere in the world, at all time,” he added.