Some were detained without cause, others harassed, but all 10 recipients of the State Department’s Global Human Rights Defender Awards share courage and commitment in making a more just world.
“Protecting human rights defenders, in lockstep with our likeminded partners, is integral to U.S. foreign policy,” said Uzra Zeya, under secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, at the ceremony in Washington.
She noted that two honorees were unable to attend, as they were unjustly imprisoned.
The honored human rights defenders come from diverse professions, including a labor leader, an investigative journalist and a surgeon.
All 10 honorees embody the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Zeya said. That U.N. document articulates the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which every person is entitled.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Bangladesh: Mohammad Nur Khan has led two of Bangladesh’s best-known domestic rights organizations and worked with international groups to document human rights abuses and hold officials accountable. His work saved lives and cleared innocent victims of politically motivated charges.
Brazil: Elaize de Souza Farias, an investigative journalist, covers issues often overlooked in the Amazon region. In 2013, she co-founded the independent news agency Amazônia Real, elevating the voices and concerns of Indigenous people, women and rural communities. She leads a movement of female entrepreneurs in independent media who seek fair and balanced coverage of the Amazon region.
Cambodia: Chhim Sithar heads the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees. She led a yearlong strike at NagaWorld Resort and Casino beginning in December 2021 for higher wages and the reinstatement of nearly 370 casino workers who said they were unjustly fired. She was arrested in 2022 because of her union activities, but continues to speak out about labor rights.
Georgia: Nino Lomjaria served as Georgia’s Public Defender from 2017 to 2022. There, she and her team, at times under intense political pressure, worked to fight discrimination and defend the rights of children, people with disabilities, prisoners, LGBTQI+ people and members of religious minorities.
Honduras: Melania Reyes has spent decades fighting violence against women in Honduras. In her 28 years at the Women’s Movement for Colonia López Arellano and Surroundings, she has helped more than 7,300 women in their fight to find and prosecute their perpetrators.
Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh is a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer and activist. She has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists, religious and ethnic minorities suffering persecution and prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors. She has been frequently imprisoned since 2010. In March 2019 she was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for providing legal defense services to women charged for not wearing a hijab.
Iraq: The legal team of the Badinan detainees, led by Bashdar Hasan, defended a group of journalists, activists and protesters that Amnesty International said were “arbitrarily arrested” and “forcibly disappeared” in Badinan (Duhok province) in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. The legal team received death threats and other harassment for their efforts.
Mauritania: Mohamed Ely El Her’s advocacy work has helped secure land rights for survivors of slavery. He won hard-fought land battles at a time when the government refused to admit slavery ever existed. He continues to share best practices to help other communities of formerly enslaved people and Afro-Mauritanians to overcome land ownership issues.
People’s Republic of China: Ding Jiaxi helped begin the New Citizen’s Movement, which supported independent candidates to run in local elections and other reforms. He has reportedly been in pretrial detention for his activism and subjected to inhumane treatment since 2019. In 2022, he was tried in secret. No verdict has been announced to date.
Togo: Ekoue David Joseph Dosseh, a surgeon, has been active in fighting against injustice for over 15 years. He has helped secure better working conditions for a range of medical staff. Today he advocates for presidential term limits in West Africa.