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Salih Mahmoud Osman, a lawyer who has defended and given free legal aid to hundreds of victims of human rights abuses in Darfur, Sudan, will receive Human Rights Watch’s highest award on November 8.

Mr. Osman is a human rights activist from the Darfur region of Sudan who for the last two decades has defended and provided legal representation to those who have been arbitrarily detained and tortured by the Sudanese government. He courageously defends members of all ethnic groups from persecution by the government of Sudan.

“Salih Mahmoud Osman continues his work as a human rights defender despite great personal risk, in a country which remains hostile to rights activists,” said Georgette Gagnon, Deputy Director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “He has been an essential resource for Darfurians facing abuse by the military, security, judicial and police forces, and for the human rights community as we respond to the crisis.”

Since February 2003, in response to a rebel insurgency, the Sudanese government and its allied militias have attacked, killed, raped, and looted thousands of civilians mainly from the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. The Sudanese government’s campaign destroyed hundreds of villages and forcibly displaced some two million from their homes. The conflict has destroyed the livelihoods of 3.2 million Darfurians.

Working as an attorney with the Sudan Organization Against Torture (known as SOAT), Mr. Osman challenges torture and impunity and defends people who are targeted solely because they oppose government policies or share the same ethnicity as the rebel movements in Darfur. He visits those who are detained and initiates legal action on their behalf.

A member of the Fur ethnic group, Mr. Osman was arrested and arbitrarily detained without charge or trial for seven months in 2004 by Sudanese security forces. He went on a hunger strike and was finally released. Mr. Osman continues to work courageously in Nyala, South Darfur, and in Khartoum to defend basic civil and political rights.

“In a country governed by the rule of the gun, Salih believes in the rule of law,” said Gagnon. “He is a thorn in the side of those who use violence to cling to power. And for so many of his fellow Darfurians, Salih is a lifeline, in a society that in recent years has had little cause to hope.”

Human Rights Watch said that despite the human rights commitments the Sudanese government has made in the peace process with southern-based rebels, death penalty defendants are routinely denied fair trials, and arbitrary arrests and detentions remain commonplace in Sudan. Mr. Osman, who still lives in Darfur, continues to undertake his invaluable research and legal representation at great risk to himself and his family.

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