On 10 December, Human Rights Day, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna are presenting 15 people with the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights.
This award recognises the efforts of all those who work tirelessly every day to advance the causes of human rights and the rule of law. The prizes are presented decentrally by the French and German missions abroad.
In Iran, courageous men and women have taken to the streets since 16 September to fight for their rights and freedoms. The catalyst for this was the death of a 22-year-old woman, Jina Mahsa Amini, who was taken into custody by the morality police because she was allegedly not wearing her headscarf in accordance with the regulations. Since then, thousands of Iranians have joined protests in the form of demonstrations, rallies and strikes – thereby taking enormous risks. More than 450 Iranians have already lost their lives due to the violence of the Iranian security forces. Over 18,000 people have been arrested. One demonstrator has been executed and many more face the death penalty. All these dangers have not deterred the courageous Iranians who have peacefully raised their voices in recent weeks to continue fighting for a life of greater freedom and dignity.
Fatou “Toufah” Jallow is a women’s rights activist and author. In 2019, she accused then Gambian President Yayha Jammeh of having raped her. In 2014, she emerged as the winner of his national beauty pageant.
Fatou Jallow inspired the #MeToo movement in the Gambia with her courage. Her public testimony broke the silence of many women that had persisted for years. She triggered a wave of other testimonies from women who were victims of sexual assault at the hands of prominent Gambian men. Their experiences went viral under the hashtag “#IAmToufah”.
Fatou Jallow organised the first women’s march against rape in the Gambia and founded the Toufah Foundation, which provides psychosocial support to survivors of sexual abuse and works to hold perpetrators to account. With her book “Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #MeToo Movement”, she continues to work to break the culture of silence in the Gambia and around the world, to hold perpetrators to account and to improve the situation for women.
Djamila Ribeiro, born in Santos, São Paulo state in 1980, is an icon of black women’s activism in Brazil and is known nationally and internationally as a bestselling author of books on black feminism and anti-racism, such as “Lugar de Fala” (A place of speech, 2017) and “Pequeno Manual Antirracista” (Small antiracist manual, 2019). Her texts also regularly reach a wide readership in her capacity as a columnist for the Brazilian daily “Folha de São Paulo” and for the German magazine “Der Spiegel”, as well as a guest in TV interviews. Furthermore, Ribeiro is the coordinator of the “Feminismos Plurais” (Plural Feminisms) collection, which also enables other black authors to publish their works. Ribeiro has done outstanding work to promote knowledge and awareness about sexist, racist and intersectional forms of discrimination in Brazil and internationally and to continue to denounce this.
Maxim Znak is a Belarusian business and human rights lawyer. He has been held in detention since 9 September 2020. Znak advocates for political liberalisation in Belarus and for the establishment of the rule of law. He was one of the lead lawyers of presidential candidate Viktor Babariko’s 2020 campaign, raising awareness among members of the public about their rights as voters and filing complaints against violations of the electoral process. As an elected member of the Board of the opposition Coordination Council, Znak was sentenced to ten years in prison in a closed and politically motivated trial. He was placed on the Belarusian terrorist list in 2022. Znak’s poor prison conditions have not diminished his determination, which is evident in his poems, letters and various literary works. The German Government and the Government of the French Republic have reiterated their calls for Maxim Znak’s immediate release.
Alex Au is an advocate for the rights of migrant workers and the LGBTIQ+ community in Singapore. His work as a civil society activist began in the 1990s while campaigning for equality for homosexuals in Singapore.
More recently, Au has achieved recognition for his work as a representative of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). As of June 2022, there were 943,000 low-wage migrant workers in Singapore. Many of them, whether in construction or in private households, suffer from a lack of compliance with health and safety regulations, discrimination and debt traps.
“Like the LGBTIQ+ community, low-wage migrant workers face similar issues of discrimination and exclusion,” he says. TWC2’s work focuses on raising awareness and helping workers who face specific difficulties.
Au’s longstanding work and aspirations are aimed at creating a more inclusive Singapore. He wants to achieve this by making society and politics aware of the individual life stories of people who live in Singapore but about whose lives little is known.
Patricia Gualinga Montalvo hails from a well-known family of environmental activists. Her father and other family members are working to defend the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.
For more than 30 years, she has resisted the exploration of oil in the Sarayaku territory in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon basin. In 2012, she was one of the main plaintiffs in the historic court case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in which the Ecuadorian state was found guilty of disregarding the Sarayaku’s rights to consultation and of concessioning oil exploration on their territory without their consent. Gualinga Montalvo herself was the main witness in the ten-year trial, and her impassioned testimony was one of the decisive factors behind the positive verdict. She also founded Amazonian Women (Mujeres Amazonicas) in 2013, a collective of more than 100, predominantly indigenous, women.
In 2018, the Sarayaku also launched the Living Rainforest (Kwasak Sacha) initiative, which aims to promote the sustainable development of their territory.
Lina Attalah is an award-winning Egyptian journalist and activist. In 2013, she co-founded the Cairo-based bilingual news outlet Mada Masr, which is renowned for its critical analysis, together with likeminded people. She has served as editor-in-chief since its establishment. Through its research, Mada Masr promotes transparency, the rule of law and accountability. Lina Attalah makes a significant contribution to the protection of freedom of the media and freedom of expression. In 2021, she received the Hermann Kesten special prize of the German PEN Centre.
Samier Makeen is a Sudanese lawyer and human rights activist. He is an activist for women’s and children’s rights, religious freedom as well as for survivors of torture and against arbitrary detention. He speaks out against arbitrary killings and mass executions. In 2015, Makeen and his colleagues founded the Sudanese People’s Legal Aid Center, a non-profit organisation and the first national institution to specialise in capital punishment. He was instrumental in drafting the 2020-2021 report on the death penalty in the Sudan, which was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. Since 2015, he has worked with the Ministry of Justice to provide legal assistance to people facing the death penalty. Makeen provides legal assistance to revolutionaries through the Sudanese NGO Emergency Lawyers and was elected Vice-Chair of the Sudanese National Human Rights Commission in March 2021, a position that he held until September 2022.
Lourença Tavares aka “Tia Lou” (“Aunt Lou” as she is known by her protégés and fellow activists) has left her mark on society in Cape Verde since 1983 through her socio-educational work with families and communities. In 1998, she founded the association for disadvantaged children (Associação de Crianças Desfavorecidas, ACRIDES), which works to promote and protect the rights of socially disadvantaged children. The focus of the organisation’s activities is on the nationwide prevention and combating of sexual abuse and the exploitation of minors – especially within families. Through tireless work in the field of awareness-raising and advocacy, she overcame social taboos and was able to put in place a formal protective framework for minors and ensure the prosecution of cases of abuse in families for the first time.
She enjoys national and international acclaim as President of ACRIDES. She is a member of a number of international organisations, such as the West Africa Network for the Protection of Children, the International Social Service (ISS) and the World Family Organization, and serves as the representative of the African Union for development NGOs in Cabo Verde.
Hadeel Abdel Aziz is a human rights activist and a founding member and Executive Director of the Jordanian NGO Justice Center for Legal Aid. The organisation has been working to promote fair trials and legal aid services in Jordan since 2008. In concrete terms, it designs low-threshold services, such as a legal aid hotline. Her organisation provides “24-hour” lawyers at police stations to support people as they pursue legal remedies. As an activist, Aziz advocates for legal reforms in Jordan, including against gender-based violence and for a progressive juvenile justice system.
Emina Bošnjak is the Executive Director of Sarajevo Open Centre. She works to promote human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular equality and rights for LGBTIQ+ people and women. In her position, Bošnjak leads a 13-member team that guides the strategic direction of the organisation by ensuring its long-term financial viability through successful fundraising and ensuring a high level of impact, while maintaining the highest standards of transparency and personnel management.
In addition to her engagement in the Sarajevo Open Centre, she is an active member of numerous local and regional groups, initiatives, organisations and networks. She was a member of the Coordination Committee of the Women’s Network Bosnia and Herzegovina and was instrumental in organising the Pride March in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is currently Co-Chair of ILGA Europe, an independent LGBTIQ+ umbrella organisation that brings together more than 600 organisations from 54 countries in Europe and Central Asia.
Sama Aweidah has been working to promote the respect for women’s rights in Palestinian society for decades. A human rights activist with degrees from Birzeit University in the Palestinian territories and City, University of London, she was involved in founding the Palestinian Federation of Women’s Action Committees, the first grassroots feminist organisation in the Palestinian territories, with a group of likeminded activists back in 1978. Together with other women, she subsequently also launched the Women’s Studies Centre based in East Jerusalem. A mother of four, she is considered a pioneer of the concept of gender audits in the Palestinian territories, which she was instrumental in introducing to the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. Currently, she is one of the most important voices in Palestinian society, advocating, among other things, for the introduction of legislative measures to protect women against gender-based violence.
Meganne Boho is one of the most important women’s rights activists in Côte d’Ivoire. She was one of the driving forces behind the Ivorian #MeToo movement. Thanks to her work, there was a major public discourse on the issue of sexual violence in her country for the first time. Boho has made it her mission to fight violence against women and gender stereotypes for ten years, most recently as President of the Ivorian League for Women’s Rights, by lobbying for legal reforms, care services for women and with activism in the digital domain. Her work is vitally important in a country where much remains to be done on the road to equality.
Mazen Darwish founded the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) in 2004, which has enjoyed UN ECOSOC consultative status since 2011. With the beginning of the violent repression of the Syrian protest movement against the Assad regime in 2011, Darwish founded the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) together with lawyer Razan Zeitouneh to systematically record human rights violations.
Today, the fight against impunity is a focus of Mazen Darwish’s work. Moreover, he is committed to drawing on “lessons learned” from Syria at the international level. In April 2022, he travelled to Kyiv in Ukraine on a fact-finding mission as part of a delegation led by Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, to support the documentation of alleged war crimes.
Mazen Darwish has been imprisoned on several occasions for his human rights work in Syria. He currently lives in Paris.
Francisco de Roux Rengifo is a Jesuit priest and was President of the Colombian Truth Commission from 2018 to 2022. He coordinated the Commission’s work under difficult political circumstances and worked to ensure that its final report dealt with the armed conflict in 11 volumes and running to over several thousand pages, placing the victims’ stories centre-stage. He thus made an indispensable contribution to reconciliation and non-repetition and is therefore also referred to as the “conscience of the nation”.
De Roux previously worked as a mediator in situations in which former enemies from armed conflicts sat down at the same table. He is widely respected for his work in peacebuilding, reconciliation and acknowledging the survivors of the Colombian armed conflict.
He was the Director of the peace programme of the Society of Jesus and Director of the Centre for Research and Popular Education from 1987 to 1993. In 2008, he was appointed Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Colombia. Francisco de Roux founded the Magdalena Medio Peace and Development Programme and the first Peace Laboratory in Colombia, in which the Church, the private sector, local governments and social organisations have worked together successfully.