September 22, 2022 — New York — American Jewish Committee (AJC) has honored Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, with the leading global Jewish advocacy organization’s prestigious Jan Karski Award.
“This is an award that belongs to very few living people who can match the standards of Jan Karski. You are one of them,” said AJC CEO David Harris, who presented the award to Shaheed at an AJC diplomatic reception on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, and who knew Karski well during the last 15 years of his life.
The Jan Karski Award is named after the renowned Polish diplomat who played a key role in Poland’s anti-Nazi resistance movement during the Holocaust and in seeking to focus world attention on the Nazi Final Solution against the Jewish people.
“For your extraordinary courage in confronting rising global antisemitism as an urgent challenge to democracy and freedom, and for your unwavering commitment to defending the human rights of all people,” states the inscription on the award that Shaheed received.
“I am overwhelmed and deeply honored to receive this award,” said Shaheed, adding that the “right recipients are all those who made my work possible, those in Jewish communities who shared their deeply traumatic experiences. Without their testimony, their input, my report would have been just words.”
In 2019, Shaheed issued the first stand-alone report on antisemitism by a UN expert. In that historic document, he expressed his conviction that antisemitism is not a problem of the Jewish community alone, but that it “threatens all people’s human rights” and is “toxic to democracy.”
Last May, he issued a comprehensive Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism, which identified antisemitism as a pressing and enduring challenge that all governments, as well as social media companies, faith leaders and the UN, should be confronting with urgency.
“The UN had to be told to look at itself to ensure that people it employs must understand what antisemitism is,” Shaheed said after receiving the AJC award.
Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, speaking at the award ceremony, praised Shaheed for his leadership in making the fight against antisemitism a priority within the UN. “In 1945, 51 nations came together to say, ‘never again” and launched the UN. Never again would unchecked hatred be allowed to threaten Jews or any other group,” said Lipstadt. “77 years later, this legacy lives on in Special Rapporteur Shaheed. He is guided by the same principles to which those 51 nations agreed.”
Noting that “the UN is not always friendly territory for Dr. Shaheed,” Harris emphasized that “you don’t build a future at the UN by insisting on a stand-alone report on antisemitism, and then adding a second part, offering the solution to the problem.”
Moreover, Shaheed, a former foreign minister of Maldives, a devoutly Muslim country, was an improbable candidate to spearhead the development and implementation of a comprehensive UN plan to confront antisemitism, Harris observed. Yet, with Shaheed’s accomplishments at the UN, “we can restore our belief in the possibility of change. We must never succumb to despair.”
Shaheed thanked AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights and its director, Felice Gaer, for partnering with him in developing his report and action plan.
“My report will not stand alone. Most important is that it will stand with you,” after his term as special rapporteur ends, said Shaheed.
“It may be a Sisyphean task, but I will keep pushing up and not give up” the fight against global antisemitism, Shaheed concluded.