On Thursday (1 December), Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean‑Marc Ayrault presented awards to 16 human rights defenders. Here are profiles of the award winners.
From China to Brazil, and from Chad to Canada: The women and men who gathered in the Weltsaal of the Federal Foreign Office on Thursday (1 December) for the awarding the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights had travelled to Berlin from around the world. “You all have one thing in common: the courage, compassion and determination with which you help others,” Foreign Minister Steinmeier said in his speech to the award winners. The audience gave them a standing ovation. Their stories and tireless efforts are impressive:
Eva Abu Halaweh, (born 1974), from Jordanis a founding member of the Mizan Law Group for Human Rights, which she has chaired since 2003. The organisation aims to promote democracy and human rights in her home country of Jordan. Prior to this, Abu Halaweh worked as a legal advisor at the UNHCR.
Pietro Bartolo, (born 1956), from Italy, is a gynaecologist who already in 1991 began campaigning for the introduction of an initial medical exam for refugees, especially for women and children. He is himself from the island of Lampedusa. Film director Gianfranco Rosi paid tribute to him in his documentary Fuocoammare, which won the Golden Bear award at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival.
Sarah Belal, (born 1978), from Pakistan, is a co-founder and Executive Director of the NGO Justice Project Pakistan, which since 2009 has been campaigning against the death penalty. Through her organisation, Sarah Belal has provided legal representation to a number of people on death row, in whose cases there is serious doubt as to the validity of the death sentence. Sarah Belal is part of an international network of lawyers who are strongly engaged in defending the rights of victims of severe human rights violations.
Valentina Cherevatenko, (born 1956), from Russia, has since 1993 chaired the organisation Women of the Don, which helps fellow citizens in regions of conflict. Cherevatenko was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for her many years of committed work, and in 2011 she was awarded the human rights prize of the Moscow Helsinki Group. A criminal case was opened against her in the summer of 2016. She is accused of having cooperated with the Heinrich Böll Foundation for one of her projects, without voluntarily registering the Women of the Don as a “foreign agent”.
Aleh Hulak, (born 1967), from Belarus, is head of the human rights NGO Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BLRHK), which was founded in 1995 and is considered the country’s most important registered human rights organisation. The BLRHK, which is also a partner of the Council of Europe, is active in many areas: it advises and supports human rights defenders and works to improve detention conditions.
Beverly K. Jacobs, (born 1962), from Canada, is a former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). She managed to secure provision by the Canadian Government of ten million dollars for investigation into 500 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. She campaigns for enforcement of the rights of Aboriginal peoples – particularly women and girls. In 2004, she wrote a report for Amnesty International titled “Stolen Sisters”.
Sunitha Krishnan, (born 1972), from India, is the founder of the organisation Prajwala. It works to combat human trafficking, aids victims of forced prostitution and helps to reintegrate these victims into society. Prajwala operates women’s and children’s shelters, trains police and judicial officers, and conducts awareness campaigns. Through its activities, more than 12,000 individuals could so far be freed from forced prostitution.
Mary Lawlor, (born 1952), from Ireland, founded the NGO Front Line Defenders (FLD) in 2001, one of the most highly recognised organisations that are working to protect human rights defenders at risk. From 1988 to 2000, she served as Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International. Although Ms Lawlor stepped down as Director of FLD in October 2016, she remains a member of its Leadership Council. Ms Lawlor is currently an Adjunct Professor at Trinity College Dublin.
Jacqueline Moudeïna, (born 1957), from Chad, joined the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights while she was living in exile. After returning to her home country, she worked as one of the first female lawyers in Chad and took up the cause of the victims of the Habré regime. Her work was an important part of the efforts that led to the arrest of Habré in Senegal in 2013, after which he was brought to trial and in 2016 convicted to lifelong imprisonment for war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity.
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, born 1972), from Cameroon, is a founding member of REDHAC, a network of human rights defenders in Central Africa and one of the most prominent human rights activists in Cameroon. The main aim of the organization is to advance the protection of human rights in Central Africa. Maximilienne Ngo Mbe has been Executive Director of REDHAC since 2010. At REDHAC, she is working hard to expand this network of human rights defenders.
Maria da Penha, (born 1945) is from Brazil. She has been left paraplegic since 1983 after having suffered severe abuse and several murder attempts by her husband. She subsequently fought for 20 years, also through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), to have domestic violence recognised as a criminal offence, which previously was not punishable under law in Brazil. In 2006, the Brazilian Parliament passed what has become known as the Maria da Penha Law.
Tahmina Rahman, (born 1962), from Bangladesh, Country Director of the human rights organisation Article 19, works to defend the right to freedom of speech in Bangladesh, especially for digital journalists and bloggers. After the murder of bloggers in Bangladesh in 2015 and 2016, she supported activists who are frequently on the so-called “death lists” of local terrorist organisations.
Thun Saray, (born 1951), from Cambodia, is President of the human rights organisation Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), which he co-founded in December of 1991. He was a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime, and has temporarily been imprisoned on account of his human rights work. ADHOC among other things supports communities and individuals in land disputes with private, local, as well as foreign investors.
Montserrat Solano Carboni, (born 1976), from Costa Rica, was elected ombudswoman by the Costa Rican Parliament in 2014 (Defensora de los Habitantes). She has been active in the international arena through her work on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, through field visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Ukraine while serving as Permanent Representative to the ICC of the International Federation for Human Rights in The Hague. Ms Solano Carboni was elected Permanent Representative to the ICC for the International Federation for Human Rights and served in this capacity until her election as ombudswoman in 2014.
Wang Qiaoling, (born 1972), from China, is a lawyer and in the space of only one year has risen to become one of her country’s most prominent human rights activists. She is the de facto spokeswoman for the family members of human rights lawyers arrested during the so-called “709” crackdown in China. Wang Qiaoling’s husband Li Heping was among those arrested, he was one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers.
Raed al-Saleh, (born 1984), from Syria, will be accepting a special award on behalf of the Syrian White Helmets. The civil defence organisation, which was established in 2013, is a group of some 3000 volunteers who work to restore local infrastructure. In the beginning, the White Helmets had twelve members. Meanwhile, the organisation is active in 115 locations, throughout all areas held by the opposition in Syria. The White Helmets are unarmed and perform their humanitarian work on a strictly neutral basis.