10 May 2016: Finalists Announced for 2016 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk
Human rights defenders from Azerbaijan, Burma/Myanmar, Colombia, Honduras, Palestine, and Tanzania have been selected as finalists for the 2016 award. Given annually, the prize recognizing the work of human rights defenders who struggle peacefully for the rights of their communities, often enduring severe personal risks as a result of their powerful work.
Ms. Phyoe Phyoe Aung is student rights defender in Burma/Myanmar. She is the General Secretary of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), and has led widespread protests for academic freedom across the country. She spent three years in prison for peacefully participating in the “Saffron Revolution” in 2008, and was again arrested in 2015 with more than 100 other students – many of whom were tortured. Phyoe Phyoe was released on presidential pardon just three weeks ago, in April 2016, but still risks being sentenced to more than nine years in prison on a number of charges related to her work leading protests for education reform.
Mr. Mohammed Khatib is a human rights defender working on the right to self-determination in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He is Palestinian lawyer and one of the founders of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC), which connects peaceful protests in different villages across Palestine. In his 11 years as a human rights defender, he has been targeted with harassment, detentions and abuse by the Israeli military, and physical assault by Israeli settlers. He has been one of the leaders of protests in his village of Bil'in, in the West Bank, which have been held every week since 2005, and which helped pressure the Israeli Supreme Court to order the re-routing of the Wall it has constructed around the village.
Ms. Ingrid Vergara Chavez is a land rights defender working with the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) in Sucre, Colombia. Ingrid and her colleagues demand justice and an end to impunity for government and paramilitary crimes, and advocate for the return of lands to displaced peasant and indigenous communities In response, she receives constant death threats. Four of her colleagues have been killed in the past two years, and she and her daughters have been threatened with weapons, public pamphlets, phone and email messages, and surveillance.
Mr. Khalid Bagirov is a representative finalist, the face of a group of threatened and persecuted human rights lawyers in Azerbaijan. When the Azeri government began an unprecedented crackdown on civil society in 2013, lawyers taking on the cases of prominent human rights defenders and journalists became targets of government persecution themselves. For his bold work defending some of the most prominent and targeted HRDs in the country, Bagirov was disbarred in 2015 – but has since continued to litigate and win cases before the European Court of Human Rights. He continues to advise the few remaining rights lawyers in the country, who are collectively honoured with this nomination.
Ms. Ana Mirian Romero is a land rights and indigenous rights defender in Honduras. She has been active in opposing the installation of the Los Encinos hydro-electric dam on indigenous land near the Chinacla river. In 2010 she filed a lawsuit for the recognition of the community's ancestral lands, and now she her family are targets of repeated attacks by police, military and armed civilians connected to the hydroelectric company. Her children were forced to leave school due to repeated harassment, and in early 2016 her home was burned to the ground, after she returned home from giving birth to her youngest son.
Ms. Maanda Ngoitiko is a women's rights, pastoralist rights, and land rights defender in Tanzania. She is one of the most targeted HRDs in the region, openly opposing “tourism” projects and land concessions that rob Maasai communities of their land and particularly harm women and girls’ education and economic opportunities. In 2013 the security services told Ngoitiko that if she didn’t stop, they would “take her away and never be seen again”. The next day she returned to her work. She continues to mobilise women to advocate for land and food security despite ongoing physical threats and judicial harassment. As recently as April 2016, local authorities called her in for interrogation.
About the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk:
The annual Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk was established in 2005 to honour the work of a human rights defender who, through non-violent work, is courageously making an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at great personal risk to themselves.
The Award seeks to focus international attention on the human rights defender's work, thus contributing to the recipient’s personal security, and a cash prize of €15,000 is awarded to the Award recipient and his/her organisation in an effort to support the continuation of this important work.
In 2014 the Al-Jazeera Media Network became the global media partner for the Front Line Defenders Award, giving much wider coverage of the ceremony and of the defender's work to a global audience.
The previous winners of the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk are:
2015 - Guo Feixiong, China
2014 - SAWERA, Pakistan
2013 - Biram Dah Abeid, Mauritania
2012 - Razan Ghazzawi, Syria
2011 - Joint Mobile Group, Russian Federation
2010 - Dr. Soraya Rahim Sobhrang, Afghanistan
2009 - Yuri Melini, Guatemala
2008 - Anwar Al-Bunni, Syria
2007 - Gégé Katana, Democratic Republic of Congo
2006 - Ahmadjan Madmarov, Uzbekistan
2005 - Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, Sudan