A nun and a priest are two of the top contenders for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Sr Helen Prejean, who inspired the Oscar-winning movie 'Dead Man Walking' for her campaign against the death penalty, has been nominated by the Inter Parliamentary Union with the support of Northern Ireland leaders John Hume and David Trimble, who won the prize in 1998. Columban missionary Fr Shay Cullen (see Irish priest challenges sexual exploitation, drug abuse - and world banking, ICN, 4 October 1999) was proposed by Scottish MP Nigel Griffiths for his work for children's rights. A member of the Sisters of St Joseph of Medaille, based in Louisiana, Sr Helen began her campaigning work 16 years ago when she befriended the killer of two teenagers. Since then she has accompanied many convicted murderers to their deaths, as well as supporting families of their victims. More than two thirds of Americans disagree with Sr Helen's views on capital punishment. But several recent high profile cases of wrongful convictions, together with a disproportionate number of members of ethnic minorities receiving death sentences, have raised public concerns over the issue. On Friday President Clinton decided to postpone what would have been the first federal government execution since 1963. "All life is precious," Sr Helen said. "You can't make a distinction between innocent life and guilty life." For the past 26 years Fr Shay and the Preda Foundation, based in Olongapo in the Phillipines, have campaigned for children's rights and challenged the activities of paedophiles and syndicates which sexually abuse children. Fr Shay has been attacked and received death threats in the course of his work. He has successfully lobbied for extra-territorial laws by which a suspect can be prosecuted in his own country when accused of abusing children abroad. Fr Shay was a drafting committee member of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in Helsinki in 1989. He was active in the International Global March in 1998 that helped to bring about the Convention Against the Worst Forms of Child Labour. Fr Shay said: "The Nobel Prize nomination is welcome and timely. It is only due to the work of the Preda team." The Nobel Prize committee will meet in Norway this autumn to make their decision.
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