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Human Rights Watch Honors Global Rights Defenders

Afghanistan, Congo and Russia Activists Recognized

(New York) -- On Tuesday, November 9, Human Rights Watch will give its highest honor to three leading human rights activists from around the world. The three activists chosen to be honorees for the year 2004 illustrate the lack of safety and security in Afghanistan, serious abuses within the Russian military, and the conflict in eastern Congo, which has killed more civilians than any war since World War II.

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 activists we honor have shown great dedication to the cause of human rights,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “They have worked courageously -- often in life-threatening environments -- to expose rights abuses and to turn the international spotlight on their countries.”

The 2004 Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Toronto will honor: Habib Rahiab, a human rights researcher from Afghanistan, Natalia Zhukova, the head of a Russian mothers’ advocacy group, and Maître Honoré Musoko, a human rights lawyer from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“All three of this year’s honorees share the fight to build and preserve civil society in their home countries,” said Roth. “We salute their bravery in putting their lives on the line to seek justice and preserve basic human rights.”

Human Rights Watch is a non-profit, international monitoring group with headquarters in New York. It accepts no financial support from any government.

The 2004 Human Rights Watch Honorees are:

Habib Rahiab, Afghanistan
Habib Rahiab is an extraordinary Afghan human rights activist who helped Human Rights Watch monitor the impact of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan on civilians, expose the mistreatment of detainees by U.S. forces, and criticize the lawlessness of local warlords after the Taliban fell.

Rahiab had directed a school for refugee girls in Pakistan and had headed a human rights documentation group that exposed the oppression of an Afghan ethnic minority, the Hazaras. Rahiab’s heroic and tireless efforts to expose human rights abuses in Afghanistan evoked the ire of the warlords, who threatened to kill him. Rahiab and his family were forced to flee Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch researchers helped resettle Rahiab and his family in the United States and found refuge and funding for him at Harvard University. Rahiab looks forward to furthering his education here in the United States and to returning one day to Afghanistan to help rebuild civil society there.

Natalia Zhukova, Russia
Natalia Zhukova works with one of Russia's most accomplished grassroots organizations, the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, which is dedicated to protecting soldiers in Russia's army from mistreatment. Each year, nearly one million young men perform obligatory military service in Russia, and thousands are injured or even die as a result of violent beatings by their senior conscripts and officers and inadequate nutrition and health care. The severity and prevalence of abuse is such that parents begin to look for ways for their sons to avoid military service long before they reach the age of conscription. The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers saves lives every day by providing a safe haven for thousands of abused conscripts and counseling them and their families. It pushes for policy change and accountability in an institution that is known for its insularity. The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers has been Human Rights Watch's primary partner in our research and advocacy on the abuse of conscripts in Russia.

Maître Honoré Musoko, Democratic Republic of Congo
Maître Honoré Musoko is a Congolese lawyer and founding member of Justice Plus, a local human rights organization based in Bunia, a town in Ituri province in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. When documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ituri, Human Rights Watch worked closely with Justice Plus and with Maître Honoré, who demonstrated extraordinary bravery in exposing atrocities in Congo that might otherwise have gone unknown. Maître Honoré has been arrested and threatened for uncovering human rights abuses in Ituri. Last year, he was forced to go into exile in Uganda after he refused to remain silent about the crimes taking place. Maître Honoré’s local colleagues also were targeted; only after an intervention by Human Rights Watch were they able to come out of hiding. Human Rights Watch could not have documented so compellingly Congo’s human rights and humanitarian catastrophe, nor prompted international action to address it, without the advice, support, and knowledge of Maître Honoré and Justice Plus.

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