Start main page content

Wits-trained lawyer awarded 2022 Calgary Peace Prize

- Wits Alumni Relations

Fatima Hassan acknowledged for her work against global health inequality.

Human rights lawyer, social justice activist and founder of the Health Justice Initiative (HJI) Fatima Hassan (BA 1993, LLB 1995) was awarded the 2022 Calgary Peace Prize for her contribution to justice in the international struggle against global health inequality. 

The Calgary Peace Prize recognises outstanding individuals from the global community who work towards making the world a more just, safer and less violent place. 

During a virtual ceremony hosted by Mount Royal University (MRU) on 12 May 2022, Hassan gave a sobering analysis on global health inequality, racism and the legacies of colonialism, specifically focusing on the pressing problem of global COVID-19 vaccine inequality.

"I am so grateful and honoured to be alongside the incredible group of people previously awarded the Calgary Peace Prize,” Hassan said.Fatima Hassan was awarded the 2022 Calgary Peace Prize. Photo by Mount Royal

“The recognition and the prize itself belongs to the entire HJI team, our board, advisers, and the local and global family of medicine access activists. We have worked for some time to warn about the consequences of intellectual property strangleholds that fuel inequitable access to life-saving treatments, and in this pandemic, we have showed why vaccine nationalism and vaccine apartheid is self-defeating.”

Hassan, who also has an LLM from Duke University, is the former executive director of the Open Society Foundation of South Africa from mid-2013 to mid-2019. She has dedicated her professional life to defending and promoting human rights especially in the field of HIV/Aids where she worked for the Aids Law Project. She also acted for the Treatment Action Campaign in many of its legal cases. Recently she has turned her attention towards injustice associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine hoarding.

She is the recipient of several fellowships and awards, including the Franklin Thomas SA Constitutional Court Fellowship, and the Tom and Andi Bernstein Distinguished Human Rights Fellowship at Yale University’s School of Law.

Dr Mark Ayyash, professor of sociology at MRU and the Peace Studies Initiative’s director said: “Fatima Hassan has worked tirelessly on these issues, and we want to recognise all of her incredible efforts…Global health inequality is a long-standing and serious problem that has caused so much preventable suffering for so many. People across the world, regardless of wealth and class, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religion and nationality, deserve to have access to life-saving medical technologies. It is against the ideals and principles of peace and justice that wealthy, largely European and North American countries, should have an overabundance of the COVID-19 vaccine, while so many poor countries across the world, especially across the African continent, are struggling to obtain these life-saving vaccines.”

Hassan said she hoped the prize will elevate the work of global movements that seek to put patients above profits.

“The legal tools exist to limit unequal access, but use of these is being blocked by very powerful and vested interests with ties to large pharmaceutical multinational corporations…

“Earlier in the pandemic, many of us cautioned that drug company benevolence or donations or charity is often a ruse and will not get us far; that we should never rely on the charity or goodwill of rich nations and pharmaceutical companies because it doesn’t create self-reliance. That rather we should seek enforceable guarantees. But then richer nations cleared the shelves, ordered up all the vaccines that were available and bypassed COVAX, an initiative that was set up to ensure equity and allocation for the whole world during this global pandemic.

“There is truly no global solidarity in this pandemic, a tragic repetition of the early years of the HIV/Aids crisis,” she said. Her full acceptance speech can be accessed here.

See Hassan’s participation in Rehad Desai’s (MA 1997) documentary, "Time of Pandemics" along with Dr Glenda Gray (MBBCh 1986).