Nuremberg's Support of Human Rights Creates New Image ; at Last Weekend's Annual Peace Festival, an African Lawyer Took Center

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The city of Nuremberg is inextricably linked with Germany's Nazi past. During the Third Reich, it served as the party's model city and was the site of torchlight parades to celebrate racist values.

After World War II, it was the scene of trials for Nazi leaders accused of crimes against humanity.

So some may be surprised to learn that Nuremberg now gives out an annual international peace and human-rights prize. For this city, in the western region of Bavaria, also has a much older tradition of peace, which was celebrated over the weekend.

The Nuremberg Peace Banquet is a festival dating back to 1649 and the Peace of Westphalia, ending the 30-Years' War. Despite steady rain, thousands of Nurembergers turned out with their umbrellas for a common "peace meal" on outdoor picnic tables stretching through the historic inner city. The 4.6 miles of benches formed "the world's longest peace banquet."

Considering the downpour, observers here offered an apt spin, stressing that defense of human rights needs year-round vigilance "and not just in fair weather."

This year's prize was awarded to Mauritanian lawyer Fatimata M'Baye, for her work as an advocate for African women and children.

Located in western Africa, Mauritania is a mostly desert nation (the Western Sahara) a little larger than Texas and New Mexico combined. It is an Islamic republic of 2.4 million, and much of the legal system is based on Sharia, or Islamic law. President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, in power since 1984, was reelected in 1997 in elections widely regarded as fraudulent.

In its 1998 country report on human rights practices, the US State Department said the "government's human rights record remained poor ... although there was some improvement in a few areas.... Democratic institutions remain rudimentary ... and in practice the right to a fair trial was restricted."

Mauritania's Arab Moorish government has twice sentenced Ms. …


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