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George Clooney honours woman who saved 30,000 children in Burundi civil war


George Clooney, who joined the president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan at the ceremony

George Clooney, who joined the president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan at the ceremony

George Clooney, who joined the president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan at the ceremony

A woman who acted as a "mother to all children" during the Burundi civil war has been recognised for her actions by George Clooney with a million dollar (£700,000) humanitarian prize.

Marguerite Barankitse, who saved the lives of 30,000 children during the country's civil war, was handed the inaugural Aurora Prize by the Hollywood actor at a ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia.

She was personally awarded 100,000 US dollars (£70,000) as well as a million dollar grant to nominate to a charity or organisation that has inspired her.

Ms Barankitse, known as Maggie was heralded by Clooney as "extraordinary". He said all the finalists were people who "make the world a better place".

Clooney, who is visiting Armenia for the first time, earlier joined the president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan in a solemn memorial service remembering the events of 1915 - when Armenians say the Ottoman Empire killed 1.5 million of its people.

Modern-day Turkey strongly disputes claims that the events were a genocide, and the figures stated.

During the prize ceremony Clooney called for the world to recognise the "Armenian genocide". Amongst the finalists for the Aurora Prize were American doctor Tom Catena, the only permanent surgeon responsible for more than half a million people in Sudan's conflicted border area with South Sudan.

Also nominated was Syeda Ghulam Fatima, a Pakistani activist who survived attempts on her life during her campaign to liberate bonded labourers, and Father Bernard Kinvi, a Togolese priest providing refuge to both sides of a civil war in the Central African Republic.

Ms Barankitse saved thousands of children left orphans during civil war in Burundi between the Tutsis and the Hutu population.

At the height of the war in 1993 the 59-year-old, a Tutsi, sheltered a group of Hutus at the Catholic diocese where she worked.

She said she will use the grant, and the million dollar prize, to further her work in the region as violence erupts in Burundi once again.

Last year Ms Barankitse was forced to flee to Rwanda once again, but remains positive.

"I am a very optimistic person and my dreams remain my dreams, when you have these values of compassion, nothing can stop you."

She called on the international community to stand with her over the current crisis and said she would travel to the Netherlands to protest and demonstrate at The Hague.

Clooney said Ms Barankitse served as a "reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice".

He added: "By recognising Marguerite's courage, commitment and sacrifice, I am hopeful that she can also inspire each one of us to think about what we can do to stand up on behalf of those whose rights are abused and are in most need of our solidarity or support."

The prize-winner said that she will use the million dollar grant to advance aid and rehabilitation for child refugees and orphans, and fight child poverty.

The organisations to receive the funding are: the Fondation Du Grand-Duc Et De La Grande-Duchesse Du Luxembourg, the JFP Foundation, and the Fondation Bridderlech Deelen Luxembourg.