2015 Martin Ennals Award

NEWS.- On Wednesday 6 October 2015, was held the Martin Ennals Award ceremony in Geneva. Every year, it aims to reward an outstanding human rights defender and to publicize the actions of persons who fight for human rights, by sensitizing the public to the numerous existing human rights violations around the world. This year, the prize was discerned to Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Asmaou Diallo, from Guinea and Robert Saan Aung from Myanmar were among the two other nominees for the award. Supported by the city of Geneva, the award was created in 1993. 


The ceremony began with Yves Flückiger, rector of the University of Geneva, a partner of the Martin Ennals Award, reminding the audience that Geneva has long been a city of international organizations, a city that has a role in propagating peace and democratic values, and in that scope, in actively defending human rights. That being said, although progress has been made since the beginning of the century, when the worst human rights violations were happening on European soil, the international community has still many efforts to make. Indeed, Micheline Calmy-Rey, chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation, followed up on this observation by stating that “Although norms sanctioning human rights violations already exist, the existence of international treaties does not mean they are respected”.

Only two out of three nominees were able to attend the ceremony. Indeed, award winner Ahmed Mansoor was not able to be present due to the travel ban he has been imposed by his state, the United Arab Emirates, as a consequence of his human rights activism. Thereupon, Flavia Pansieri, former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, called upon the UAE to give back Mr Mansoor his passport so that he may continue his fight for human rights. There are still too many countries that harass human rights defenders, imprisoning them, torturing them or even, in the worst cases, eliminating them. She regretted that the energy dispensed by States to think of and adopt repressive legislations was not used to defend human rights. She concluded by calling upon the international community to show solidarity and affirmed that “human rights defenders were among the bravest of us” and that therefore, “it is our duty to show solidarity, to support them as an international community”.

During the ceremony, testimonies from the nominees were projected to the public, which constituted a truly emotional moment. First to speak was Asmaou Diallo, whose son was killed in the 28 September Conakry stadium massacre, in Guinea, during which soldiers from Captain Moussa Dadis Camara’s former junta opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters. Since the event, Diallo has been defending victims of the massacre, and through her NGO AVIPA, she has managed to convict several main perpetrators, giving new impetus to the fight against impunity in her country.

Robert Saan Aung, in turn, was imprisoned numerous times for his human rights activism. He has lost contact with most of his family because of the fear of governmental reprisals and when we ask him what the situation is like for human rights activists in Myanmar, he answers that “when someone fights for human rights, he has to give up everything else”. During his speech, he affirmed that his nomination would constitute an important support to safely fulfil his mission in the future.

Finally, the audience was able to hear award winner Ahmed Mansoor during a videoconference from his home. He expressed his incomprehension towards the UAE’s repressive policy regarding human rights defenders. There are still too many people who disappear, who are tortured to forcibly confess crimes that they have not committed. Human rights defenders become outcasts in their communities because they are depicted as unpatriotic by pro-government media. To conclude, he expressed his hope that the honour he received will contribute to showing the world that there are still major human rights issues in his country and that someday, abuses will be investigated and punished.

Every year, the Martin Ennals Award jury promotes the work of its three nominees on the international scene, in order to publicise and protect their actions. To bring an end to the ceremony, Sandrine Salerno, administrative counsellor of the city of Geneva, reaffirmed Geneva’s will to continue to thoroughly support the Martin Ennals Award and called for the mobilization of the international community to continue to support human rights activists around the world.


Alexandre Binz

Research assistant at CIPADH