Former president of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), Liisa Kauppinen, received the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Award Prize from the United Nations on Human Rights Day on 10 December 2013 in New York, USA.
The United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights is an honorary award given to individuals and organisations in recognition of outstanding achievement in human rights every five years.
Former WFD President Liisa Kauppinen will join a list of highly distinguished recipients of the United Nations Human Rights Award, such as the Former First Lady of the USA, Eleanor Roosevelt, US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, Former President of the USA, Jimmy Carter, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and many more.
Dr Kauppinen is truly an extraordinary woman, who served the World Federation of the Deaf for more than 30 years. She became the first female president of WFD in 1995, having previously served as its Vice-President (from 1983) and General Secretary (from 1987). She was Executive Director of the Finnish Association of the Deaf from 1976-1987 and from 1991-2006. She has worked actively with leaders of international organisations of persons with disabilities both as a member, and as Chair of the governing body of the International Disability Alliance. As WFD Emeritus President since 2003 and WFD Honorary President since 2011, she has been an inspiration to Deaf Communities internationally, an articulate and intelligent ‘voice’ on the need to explicitly uphold the human rights of deaf people at local, national, and international levels.
Dr Kauppinen was particularly effective in securing the inclusion of references to signed languages, Deaf Culture, Deaf Community and the identity of deaf people within the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The focus of Dr Kauppinen’s human rights work, however, has not been exclusively on the rights of deaf people, but also on human rights for all. She has promoted both rights of women and women with disabilities through co-operation with other human rights activists, representatives of governments and international non-governmental organisations.
Dr Kauppinen’s passion for international work led to a number of development co-operation projects in areas such as organisational development, sign language documentation, sign language interpreting service and human rights training projects with Deaf Communities in Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia, the Balkans and North West Russia. Her work with these projects resulted in the expansion of the number of member countries of the World Federation of the Deaf; an increase of 71 countries between 1983 – 2003. Deaf people in these areas now benefit from stronger deaf associations and services, increased recognition, and the ongoing support of WFD.
Though she is now retired, she continues to involve herself in WFD work as a voluntary advisor at the WFD Secretariat in Helsinki, Finland, the country where she was born and raised.
The WFD’s current President Colin Allen was greatly inspired by Liisa’s achievement at the recent United Nations High-level Meeting on Disability and Development where he stated “Only when Governments meet their obligations under the UNCRPD, will deaf people have equality in their everyday lives.” Only then will Liisa’s life-long ambition for deaf people to have equality be achieved after a lifetime’s work.