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Czech Republic: Havel Is Amnesty's First 'Ambassador Of Conscience'

Dublin, 13 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The human rights group Amnesty International tonight presents its first "Ambassador of Conscience" award to former Czech President Vaclav Havel. The award will be given at a ceremony in the famous Abbey Theatre in the Irish capital Dublin.

In remarks released in advance of the ceremony, the head of the Art for Amnesty group, Bill Shipsey, says Havel is an inspiration not only to his fellow Czechs but to all freedom-loving people.

Shipsey says Havel's writings as a dissident in the communist era upheld the dignity and primacy of the individual and bear testament to the power of the individual against seemingly insuperable odds.

Shipsey goes on to say that Havel's calm and intelligent leadership contributed much to the peacefulness of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that overthrew the communist regime in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Shortly after that, Havel became the president of the new, free Czechoslovakia. In 1993, Havel oversaw the bloodless split of Czechoslovakia into two independent nations.

Havel was active for many years in the rights movement and a co-founder of Charter 77, a manifesto signed by artists and intellectuals to protest the government's failure to live up to the civil rights terms of the Helsinki Agreement.

During his period of dissent, Havel was jailed several times, spending in total more than five years in prison. Today he is in generally poor health.

Havel completed two terms as state president and stepped down from that office earlier this year, to be replaced by Vaclav Klaus.