Kuala Lumpur (BWA)--Wati Aier, principal of the Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS) in Dimapur in the Northeast Indian state of Nagaland, was presented with the 2011 Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award on July 9.
The award is given annually to an individual who has engaged in significant and effective activities to secure, protect, restore or preserve human rights, and was presented during the BWA Annual Gathering held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from July 4-9.
Janice Lotz presented the award to Aier, who was accompanied on stage by his wife Alongla Aier, a professor at OTS, and who was one of the keynote speakers at the 2010 Baptist World Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Aier, convener of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, formed in 2008, was recognized for helping to broker peace between three nationalist groups in Nagaland. The three groups had been in conflict with each other and with the Indian government over issues of autonomy and sovereignty for Nagaland state and the Naga people.
Between 1992 and 2009, more than 2,330 insurgency related fatalities have been recorded in Nagaland. As a result of the longstanding disputes dating back more than 50 years, exceptionally tight security has been imposed on the state by the Indian government, with multiple checkpoints scattered throughout the state. International visitors are required to obtain special permits to enter and move around Nagaland.
Aier is a former vice president of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation (APBF), one of six regional fellowships of the BWA. He previously served as a member of the BWA Commission on Freedom and Justice and the Academic and Theological Education Workgroup, and currently serves on the BWA Commission on Peace and on the BWA Congress Committee.
He helped to found a liberal arts junior college program for Karen refugees from Myanmar in the Mae Le refugee camp in Thailand, near the border with Myanmar, and played a role in launching the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School and College in the same camp where OTS graduates are the main teachers.
In his response, Aier acknowledged the role played by others in the Naga peace process, including the BWA, the APBF, the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India, Naga Baptists, and others, in helping to broker peace "in one of the longest, lasting conflicts in recent history." He stated that the Naga people had been longing "to live in peace."
He thanked the Karen people, particularly those in the Mae La refugee camp "for giving us space to work with them over the past 17 years."
BWA President John Upton spoke of his admiration of the life and work of Aier. What he did, "he did for Christ and for his people," Upton said of Aier. Upton, on a recent trip to the Mae La camp, said he met church leaders in the camp who spoke highly of Aier, reporting that they received their training at OTS.
The founder of OTS in 1991, Aier holds two doctoral degrees from Chicago Theological Seminary, and a master's degree from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Chicago in the United States. He earned a bachelor's degree from the Kohima Science College in India.
He authored the book A Cry From the Rice Fields: A Call of Freedom for the Nagas.
At the award presentation, the theological educator was described as a peacemaker, a man of courage, a role model and a superb advocate.
The Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award is given out each year during the BWA Annual Gathering. Previous recipients include Gustavo Parajon from Nicaragua, Joao and Nora Matwawana from Angola, Dennis Datta from Bangladesh, and Leena Lavanya from India.