Activists from Bangladesh, China, Mexico Up for Martin Ennals Award
April 23, 2014

(Geneva) – The 2014 Martin Ennals Award will go to an activist from Bangladesh, China or Mexico, the 10-member prize jury said today. The annual award is selected by the 10 international human rights groups and given to human rights defenders who have shown deep commitment and face great personal risk. The aim of the award is to highlight their work and protect them through increased visibility.

This year’s finalists are Cao Shunli, the Chinese civil society activist who died in detention in March 2104 after the jury decided on her nomination; Adilur Rahman Khan, the founder of the Bangladeshi rights organization Odhikar; and the Mexican land rights advocate Alejandra Ancheita.

“These three courageous activists have shown an extraordinary dedication to protecting the rights of their people,” said Reed Brody, special counsel at Human Rights Watch and member of the Martin Ennals jury. “Cao Shunli tragically paid the ultimate price for her commitment.”

Cao Shunli (China)
The death in detention of Cao Shunli was announced on March 14, six months to the day after she disappeared shortly before boarding a flight order to speak at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Chinese authorities only acknowledged her detention months later. She died in custody after being denied adequate medical attention for known health conditions until it was too late. Since 2008, she vigorously advocated for access to information, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. For this, she spent over two years in the “re-education through labour” system and was subjected to repeated harassment – her final sentence was for “picking quarrels and stirring up troubles.” This is a tragic example of reprisals suffered by human rights defenders who work with international human rights mechanisms.

“The Human Rights Council, its president and other UN members must now support an independent investigation into her death, and hold China accountable for this reprehensible reprisal against a committed and peaceful human rights defender,” said Michael Ineichen of the International Service for Human Rights.

Adilur Rahman Khan (Bangladesh)
Since the 1990’s, Adilur Khan has worked on a wide range of human rights issues, such as illegal detention, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings. His organization, Odhikar, is one of the few independent voices left in Bangladesh. He is facing criminal prosecution for documenting the extrajudicial deaths of 61 people during demonstrations against the government in May 2013. In August 2013, he was detained without an arrest warrant by police, who at first denied holding him. Immediate widespread publicity is credited with saving his life. His organization faces closure. Donor funds destined for Odhikar are being blocked by the Prime Minister’s office.

“My nomination for this prestigious award will further inspire me personally, and my fellow colleagues who shoulder the struggles for democracy and the rule of law aiming to achieve social justice in Bangladesh,” Adilur Khan said. “As a symbol of recognition for human rights defenders it will enhance the visibility and protection for the families of the victims of human rights abuses.”

Alejandra Ancheita (Mexico)
Ancheita is founder and executive director of ProDESC, and has worked for more than 15 years with migrants, workers, and indigenous communities to protect their land and labor rights vis a vis transnational mining and energy companies. These disputes have included violent attacks on those she is trying to protect. She is also a pioneer in seeking accountability for transnational companies in Mexican courts when local communities’ rights are not considered. In Mexico, there is a clear pattern of attacks, threats, criminalization, and murders of human rights defenders. Ancheita and ProDESC have been subjected to surveillance, a defamation campaign in the national media, and a break-in at their offices.

“This recognition calls attention to the increasing violence being suffered by human rights defenders in Mexico, particularly women defenders,” Ancheita said. “I hope that it provides better conditions and increased security not just for me, but for all human rights defenders in my country.”

The winner will be announced and the award presented on October 7 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among 10 of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The juryis composed of representatives from Amnesty International, EWDE Germany, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, HURIDOCS, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, and World Organisation Against Torture.

For more on the Martin Ennals Award, please see: www.martinennalsaward.org