Foreign Minister Gabriel and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian announced the recipients of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law on Monday (4 December). The medals were presented to 15 men and women who had made immense efforts and often risked their personal safety to promote the rights of others. “By presenting these awards we are making plain that our two countries do not want to allow human rights and the rule of law to be exposed to constantly growing pressure,” as Gabriel outlined together with his colleague Minister Le Drian. The activists’ stories make impressive reading. These are the recipients in 2017:
Adilur Rahman Khan, in his capacity as Chair of the human rights organisation “Odhikar”, (“rights” in Bengali), works to promote human rights in Bangladesh. A prominent human rights activist, he is also a member of a number of human rights networks in Asia. For speaking out on enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings, he has been subjected to surveillance and threats in Bangladesh. After his NGO Odhikar published a report on suspected extrajudicial killings, he himself was abducted and jailed in 2013. He was released on bail by the Supreme Court after 62 days of detention. As a Supreme Court lawyer, Adilur Rahman Khan worked to promote the rule of law and to grant poor and marginalised groups access to justice. He, for example, successfully fought for the release of 300 detainees from minority ethnic communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Nounongnon Balbylas Gbaguidi, born in 1956 in Savalou, is the national coordinator of “Prisonniers Sans Frontières Bénin” and has been working for more than twenty years to improve conditions in Benin’s prisons. He works in particular to assist imprisoned women and minors, improve detainees’ access to food and health care and provides legal support to detainees as well as practical assistance for their social reintegration. A graduate in law, he chairs the coalition of NGOs and human rights defenders’ associations in North Benin and leads the centre for human rights education in Parakou.
Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga was herself a victim of sexual abuse and has been HIV positive since 2000. Since then, she has been working to promote the right to access health care and gender equality. As President of the Bolivian network of people living with HIV (REDBOL), she is a leading international figure in the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and is committed to eliminating constraints stemming from intellectual property rights. In Bolivia, she is a member of the Committee against racism and all forms of discrimination, the inter-programme Committee on tuberculosis and HIV as well as Vice President of the National Council on HIV.
Ragia Omran is a leading Egyptian lawyer and member of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights. She is a founding member of the “Front to Defend Egypt’s Protesters and of No to Military Trials for Civilians” - two groups which provide legal aid and support for families of detainees. She also works as a volunteer at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center which offers free legal aid for victims of torture and arbitrary detention. Ragia Omran is also an active member of several Egyptian civil-society organisations. From 2005 to 2008, she chaired the New Woman Foundation and she is also a member of Shayfeencom, a non partisan, non-profit organisation focused on election monitoring and transparency.
In his capacity as director of FUNDAMEDIOS, the Ecuadorian journalist César Ricaurte publicly denounced the attacks on the press and violations of the right to freedom of expression perpetrated by the Ecuadorian Government. In 2007, he set up FUNDAMEDIOS, the Andean Foundation on the Social Observation and Study of the Media, which has since worked to defend and promote freedom of the press and freedom of opinion and to provide further training for journalists.
Abdullah Al Khonaini (born in 1987) has been active for 9 years as a human rights activist in “Sout Al Kuwait”, a non-governmental organisation that aims to promote constitutional awareness in Kuwait through various media outlets. Furthermore, he works on projects, publications and campaigns on further training on civil society and constitutional law and is a co-founder of “Raqib50”, a non-profit website that holds parliamentarians accountable by making their voting records accessible to the public. The political scientist also founded “meem3”, a social movement that lobbies for more relaxed censorship policies. As a trainer and facilitator for the “n-mu youth” empowerment programme, he has set himself the goal of providing young people with the knowledge and tools that they need to be active in their own community.
Bekim Asani founded the NGO “LGBTI United Tetovo”, the first LGBTI organisation registered outside the capital Skopje. It fights for the inclusion of LGBTI people, whose situation in the Balkans is characterised by homophobia and exclusion. He is also involved in interethnic dialogue in Tetovo, where he, for example, founded the first multiethnic school newspaper “POINT” involving Macedonian, Albanian and Turkish young people. Bekim Asani also works to promote women’s rights, the rights of Sinti and Roma and rights of children living on the streets. Due to his commitment, the human rights activist has been subjected to various threats and intimidation attempts. In 2013, he was abducted for six hours. After his speech at the Pride Parade 2015 in Amsterdam, Bekim Asani received more than 200 hate mails and death threats.
Mandira Sharma has been working for more than 20 years in Nepal to promote human rights and the rule of law, focusing on the prevention of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and sexual abuse of women. Known as a voice against impunity, the lawyer actively promotes a comprehensive transitional justice approach to deal with the legacies of past human rights violations in Nepal. She represents many victims also before the UN Human Rights Committee. She is the founder of Advocacy Forum, a national NGO monitoring and documenting the cases of human rights violations systematically, offering free legal advice to the victims and working to raise awareness to prevent violations. In the midst of Nepal’s armed conflict, she developed a team of 100 lawyers and human rights defenders, trained and led them, documenting more than 8000 cases.
Grace Osakue is co-founder and chair of Girls’ Power Initiative Nigeria (GPI), which equips women and youth through skills-building and comprehensive sexuality education. GPI supports victims of human trafficking and helps sensitise communities in order to prevent it. She has coordinated the GPI work on human trafficking over the last eighteen years, spanning from research, awareness-raising for prevention to rehabilitation of trafficked persons. She is furthermore the principal of Asoro Grammar School in Benin City, coordinator of the West Africa Network for the Protection of Children in Nigeria-South, board member of the Network of Civil Society Organisations against Trafficking, Child Labour and Abuse, and chairperson of the Board of Trustees of BraveHeart Initiative for Youth and Women.
Rosemarie Trajano is the secretary general of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), an alliance of about 50 organisations nationwide promoting human rights in the Philippines. It is her merit to bring together the human rights engagement of civil society in the Philippines in an increasingly difficult environment. A trained nurse, she has been promoting the protection of human rights since 1986. She worked for the Medical Action Group documenting human rights violations, providing medical and psychosocial services to torture victims and the families of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. She also worked for the welfare of Filipina migrant workers, facilitating legal and psychosocial interventions, and advocated against trafficking in women.
Elena Milashina is an award-winning investigative journalist for Russia’s independent newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”. Since the killing of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, Elena Milashina has been researching and reporting on grave violations of human rights in Chechnya and is considered a leading expert in the field. She investigates enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, torture, persecution of relatives of alleged insurgents and women’s rights in Chechnya and beyond. She also played a key role in the independent investigation into the murder of Chechen human rights activist Natalia Estemirova. In April 2017, she uncovered a major crackdown on homosexual men in Chechnya. She has documented atrocities committed by both sides during the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict and pressed for an end to impunity. She has repeatedly received death threats from the Chechen authorities.
Shreen Abdul Saroor is the founder of the Mannar Women’s Development Federation and a founding member of the Women’s Action Network, a collective of 11 women’s groups that work mainly in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Both organisations focus on combating gender-based violence. Although the war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009, war widows and female-headed households still face many hardships.
Shreen Abdul Saroor gives these women a voice through advocacy and lobbying and also supports them in their search for missing family members.
The challenges faced by Shreen Abdul Saroor in her own experience, when she and members of her community were forcibly displaced from the north by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1990 laid the foundation for her activism, which besides her emphasis on women’s rights and empowerment also focuses on reconciling Tamil and Muslim displaced communities, work for which she has been internationally recognised.
Born in 1973, Kerem Altiparmak is a lawyer, human rights defender and a professor. He was, until October, director of the Human Rights Centre at the Faculty of Political Science of Ankara University.
He is currently working with the Human Rights Joint Platform on the monitoring of the implementation of the ECHR judgements in Turkey. He is also working with Prof. Yaman Akdeniz (İstanbul Bilgi University) on a project to train lawyers, set up law clinics and support digital activists and members of civil society organisations. They made successful appeals to the Turkish Constitutional Court to get YouTube and Twitter bans lifted in 2014.
Pavlo Lysianskyi, born in 1987, is a lawyer, human rights activist and a German-trained mediator. He is the leader of the non-governmental human rights organisation East Human Rights Group, which was founded in 2014 by a group of internally displaced lawyers. Pavlo Lysianskyi and his organisation defend human rights in the towns and communities close to the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. They monitor the human rights situation in places of detention and advocate against forced labour and unlawful detention in areas not under the control of the Government. In 2017, Mr Lysianskyi facilitated the release of Alexander Yefreshyn from separatist captivity. Today Mr Lysianskyi is building a regional network of human rights defenders.
Liliana Ortega Mendoza, born in 1965, is the founder of COFAVIC, the Committee of Relatives of the Victims of the Events of February-March 1989 (Comité de Familiares de las Víctimas de los Sucesos de Febrero-Marzo de 1989), one of the most recognised human rights organisations in Venezuela. Through her work and commitment, the lawyer and professor has contributed to the self-organisation of victims from very vulnerable social groups and assisted them in proceedings before international bodies. Liliana Ortega Mendoza legally represented the victims of the 1989 riots. As a director of COFAVIC, she is a leading figure when it comes to establishing standards for the documentation of cases of extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances. She was selected by Time magazine (1999) as one of the 50 leading figures of the new millennium in Latin America.