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A distinguished international panel chose Global Witness for the honor, bestowed annually since 2003. Previous winners include Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign and Gordon Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer and now prime minister of the United Kingdom, for his efforts on behalf of the creation of an advance market commitment for vaccines to fight killer diseases in developing countries. The Commitment to Development "Ideas in Action" Award honors individuals or organizations for "raising public awareness and changing the attitudes and policies of the rich world toward developing countries."
Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, said Global Witness, founded in 1992 by environmental activists Patrick Alley, Charmian Gooch and Simon Taylor, has repeatedly exposed "the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and the international trade system" as well as human rights and environmental abuses.
Its first investigation of illegal timber sales by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia shut down that trade in 1995. A headline-making Global Witness report in 1998 showed how rebels in Angola were financing a deadly civil war by selling diamonds. That work, along with a January 2000 report by Partnership Africa Canada, another crusading NGO, on the role of diamonds in the civil war in Sierra Leone, figured prominently in the establishment of the Kimberley Process to certify diamonds that are not mined from conflict zones.
Global Witness, which now has a staff of 35 and a £3 million budget, produces reports and videos exposing corruption and environmental wrong-doing, especially in countries awash in oil revenues, from Turkmenistan to Equatorial Guinea. It was a founder of the Publish What You Pay campaign, which seeks transparency about how resource-rich governments spend their share of mineral revenues. Funders include a dozen foundations as well as the development agencies of Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It recently helped put a timber and arms trafficker in jail in Holland.
The award will be presented to the Global Witness founders at an event on January 31 in Washington DC, where both the Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy are based.
Birdsall and Foreign Policy editor-in-chief Moisés Naím co-chaired the selection committee. Other panel members include Evelyn Herfkens, executive coordinator of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Campaign; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, CGD board member and former Nigerian minister of finance and foreign affairs who was recently named as a managing director at the World Bank; Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby, who is director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Kevin Watkins, Director, UN Human Development Report Office.
Previous winners are: the European ministers of international development who constitute the Utstein Group (2003); Oxfam's Make Trade Fair Campaign (2004); Gordon Brown (2005), and then-U.S. congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) (2006).