French Ambassador Laurence Beau, Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand Kairangi Samuela, Puai Wichman (Valery's Dad), Valery Wichman, German Ambassador Nicole Menzenbach. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Tiana Haxton/24020922
Valery Wichman, a leading figure in the Cook Islands’ LGBTQI+ movement, was presented with the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Wellington.
is one of 12 people to receive the award; joining recipients from Syria,
Venezuela, SAR Hong Kong (China), the Central African Republic, Iraq, Lebanon,
Poland, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. However,
Wichman is the first Pacific recipient of the award.
works as a barrister and solicitor, for the Cook Islands Government, and is a
leading campaigner for human rights in that small country.
is also one of the founders the Cook Islands rainbow group Te Tiare
Association, and has been a leading figure in the LGBTQI+ movement throughout
the Pacific for almost 20 years.
said this award is in recognition of generations of rainbow community members
advocating and pushing for positive change.
talk about equality before the law, which is guaranteed under our Constitution
but it’s more than that, and it’s about instilling those foundational values
which are prominent in our cultures, island cultures, Cook Islands, wherever,”
Wichman told RNZ Pacific.
all must love each other, we must be kind to each other, and we must respect
each other despite our differences and so for me this recognition shows me that
the world is watching and the world acknowledges the hard fight from our Pa
Metua right down to today.”
also said “we’ve been conditioned to ‘othering’ people who are different, and I
guess this part of the process of ‘un-othering us’”.
is not the first time she has been recognised for her work.
2016 she received a Queen’s Young Leaders Award for supporting LGBTQI+ rights
in the Cook Islands. She helped to draft policy and worked with policymakers to
develop support services for the LGBTQI+ community.
2023, Te Tiare Association and Pride Cook Islands were both instrumental in
drafting a bill which decriminalised same-sex relationships. The Bill was
passed in the Cook Islands Parliament on 14 April of that year.
significance of it all is the first time our government has been able to sort
of separate church and state enabling or understanding that there are
constitutional obligations and responsibilities that they must uphold and that
was shown through the decision that was made last year,” Wichman said.
thanked her allies in the community, who she believes helped change not just
the law but peoples’ mindsets.
also had a message for every child or adult who may feel different.
are amazing, you are beautiful, and you are meant to be here, so go forth and
just embrace the world. If you can get help from your family or friends or
other community members, reach out.”
2016, France and Germany have used International Human Rights Day as an
opportunity to acknowledge individuals around the world who have shown an
outstanding commitment to promoting human rights.
Menzenach, the German Ambassador to Aotearoa/New Zealand, Samoa, Tuvalu and the
Cook Islands, explained that every year the German and French Embassies around
the world are asked by their governments to select an outstanding person who is
fighting for dignity and human rights. From 56 embassies, 12 names are
said she was proud that Wichman’s name was among them.
Ambassador of France to New Zealand, the Cook Islands, and Samoa, Laurence Beau
said this award recognises all the great work Wichman has done over so many
said under Wichman’s leadership as president, Te Tiare Association helped
advance the rights of the LGBTQI+ community in the Cook Islands - and achieved
a milestone: same-sex relations were decriminalised in the Cook Islands in
is not a surprise that her work has brought both national and international
recognition,” Beau said.