PRESS RELEASE – On October 10th 2017, the International Center for Peace and Human Rights attended the Martin Ennals Award Ceremony for Human Rights defenders held at the University of Geneva. It consisted in presenting the following finalists as well as their work and combat in their respective countries: Mohamed ZAREE (Egypt), FreeThe5KH (Cambodia) and Karla AVELAR (El Salvador). This press release will first rapidly introduce Martin Ennals and then enunciate a few important subjects mentioned by some key speakers before presenting every finalists and concluding.
He was the cofounder of many Human Rights organizations. In a video showing his views on the matter, he expressed that there will always be human rights violations, it is part of the human development, whatever the place and time. He died in 1991 and now each year, in order to honor him and to keep rewarding exemplary human rights defenders, a price is given to a person that fought for peace and faced great personal risk by doing so.
Important subjects mentioned by key speakers
The president of the Martin Ennals Foundation, Dick Oosting, explained that the purpose of this award is to show international solidarity and a certain protection to these human rights defenders, that are all repressed and prosecuted in their respective countries. He briefly presented each one of the finalists before stating that the two laureates from 2015 (Ahmed Mansoor) and 2016 (Ilham Tohti) are still in jail to this day.
Micheline Calmy-Rey, former Federal Counsellor and President of the Swiss Confederation, highlighted the fact that human rights really have to be respected towards migrants. They have the same rights as anyone else and are definitely not excluded from the human rights declaration, no one is. She also talked about all the attacks directed to universities that have multiplied in the last few years. These attacks are not without meaning since universities are supposed to be the place where freedom of thought is key.
The University’s rector, Yves Flückiger specified that the University of Geneva now welcomes some refugee students and researchers that are threaten in their country in order for them to peacefully continue their carrier.
Other important figures, such as the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore have made speeches.
Presentation of the finalists
Each finalist presented themselves in a short movie explaining their work and challenges while fighting for peace and human rights. After each movie, the awards were given followed by speeches. Unfortunately, two of the three finalists could not be physically present during the ceremony, due to their travel ban and their countries’ non-acceptance concerning their human rights defending work. However, their families received the award on their behalf.
FreeThe5KH (Cambodia): Mr Ny Sokha, Mr Yi Soksan, Mr Nay Vanda, Ms Lim Mony and Mr Ny Chakrya, the “Khmer 5” are human rights defenders have dedicated their life in order to empower thousands of Cambodians to actively defend their rights and seek justice. Their purpose is to find better solutions in order to stop the fear and abuse and to convince victims that they can act and ask for their rights to be respected. They have spent 427 days in pre-trial detention because of their work. Their time in prison has made them more aware about the general situation, according to them. Two of their daughters, San Vattey and Un Bunnary, received the award on their behalf.
Karla Avelar (El Salvador): she has dedicated her life to, mostly, defend the rights of LGBTI persons as well as HIV affected persons, migrants, sexually discriminated and mistreated victims. She grew up in the streets, has been shot at several times and raped and tortured in prison because of her beliefs and of the fact that her country is very conservative. She explained in her speech that after all the abuses committed to her, she became stronger and more aware of her rights and how to defend them. She then started helping other vulnerable people. Thanks to her work, the general situation has improved in her country. She insists on the fact that every country has to respect the international treaties they have ratified and international organizations should help them to respect human rights.
Mohamed Zaree (Egypt): he is a lawyer specialized in the defense of human rights and the Country Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. His tireless efforts to defend human rights have led him to be under investigation in his country. He is facing charges that could go up to 25 years. He is determined that it is justice and respect of human rights that make a country better, which has motivated him not to keep silent about injustices. He is the winner of the Martin Ennals Award from 2017. His wife and children received the award on his behalf.
The finalists showed a great amount of courage and gave hope to many people about the fact that it is crucial to persevere in the defense of human rights. They all had a few common points that will be highlighted here. First of all, they all specified that they are not against the government, they want to work alongside it in order to improve the respect of human rights. Second of all, each one of them explained that they were plainly aware of the common risks (such as mistreatment and prosecution) arising from their work but this did not stop them from continuing. They tell themselves not to give up in prison because they are doing the right thing. Local justice does not respond but they receive aid and support from the international community, which already is a great improvement. Third of all and most importantly, they all agree that the respect of human rights only depends on the help and willingness of the governments. Once they are able to make the governments act, they will have finished their work. The awareness and aid provided from the international community is already a great start. Even if some of them were banned from travelling, they are all deeply thankful for the opportunity they had to present their work in Geneva, the city hosting numerous international organizations.
By Taline Bodart