The global human rights defenders to be honored for the year 2002 have defended free expression and civil society in Turkey, created a justice movement in Chad from the ground up, and fought the burgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis in India. Human Rights Watch staff work closely with these brave individuals as part of our defense of human rights in more than 70 countries around the world.
"The advocates we honor in 2002 have shown great courage and dedication to the cause of human rights," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "They have worked tirelessly -- in often dangerous environments -- to expose rights abuses and to focus the international spotlight on their countries."
The 2002 Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco will honor:
- Souleymane Guengueng, for his work to bring to justice one of Africa's most abusive dictators;
- Meena Seshu, for her work to expose and stem India's growing HIV/AIDS crisis;
- Sanar Yurdatapan, for his work in Turkey, to defend freedom of expression
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Brief biographies of the three honorees follow:
Souleymane Guengueng, Chad, International Justice
Souleymane Guengueng is the founder and vice president of the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime (AVCRP) and a main force behind the case against former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré. Mr. Guengueng almost died during two years of mistreatment in Habré's prisons, and he watched hundreds of people succumb to malaria, starvation, and torture. When
Habré fell, Mr. Guengueng, a modest but fearless civil servant, helped found the AVCRP, which gathered files on 792 victims to bring Habré to justice and win compensation for his victims. When it became clear that the successor government in Chad would not pursue justice for the victims, Mr. Guengueng hid the files underneath his mud-brick home, where they stayed for eight years until he handed them to a Human Rights Watch researcher. These files formed the core of the case against Habré, who was arrested in exile in Senegal in 2000 and charged with crimes against humanity and torture. With Human Rights Watch's support, the victims now seek Habré's extradition to stand trial in Belgium. When a Belgian judge visited Chad recently, Mr. Guengueng said, "Everyone thought I was crazy, but now they can see justice is on the march."
Meena Seshu, India, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights
Meena Seshu is one of India's most compelling and creative human rights and AIDS activists. She speaks consistently about the HIV/AIDS crisis as a human rights issue. Ms. Seshu is the general secretary of SANGRAM, an organization that works to stem the epidemic in Maharashtra state, which has one of the highest infection rates in India. SANGRAM disseminates basic information about HIV and distributes 350,000 condoms per month, which translates into significant HIV prevention. One of the group's most successful projects is to build the capacity of sex workers to organize in collectives, negotiate condom use with their clients, and assert and defend their rights. Human Rights Watch worked with SANGRAM earlier this year and documented how the Indian police and local thugs obstructed SANGRAM's work through harassment and abuse of its outreach workers. In so doing, the police prevented the dissemination of essential information and services and perpetuated the social stigmatization of vulnerable populations. Ms. Seshu, who has endured personal attacks by local authorities, has not let that stop her from working on behalf of some of India's most marginalized people.
Sanar Yurdatapan, Turkey, Freedom of Expression
Sanar Yurdatapan bravely and ingeniously mocks Turkey's harsh restrictions on freedom of expression. In Turkey, it is dangerous to speak out about some of the most contested topics in modern life: the role of Islam, the plight of the Kurdish ethnic minority, and the power of the military. Those who express unpopular opinions about these issues risk imprisonment, fines, and the banning of their publications. Defying this punishment, Mr. Yurdatapan has republished banned materials, defended the articulation of Islamist thought, investigated human rights massacres against the Kurdish minority, and, at times, publicly declared the incompetence and corruption of Turkish and other authorities. He has worked with Human Rights Watch to focus public attention on the unjust imprisonment of Kurdish officials and to defend indicted publishers, writers and politicians. In Turkey, where it is often difficult to oppose official policies that suppress dissent, Mr. Yurdatapan, who has been imprisoned three times and endlessly harassed, unabashedly and creatively defends a principle - the right to disagree vocally and protest peacefully - which is a touchstone of the human rights movement.