Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.
Yoseph Mulugeta is the former Secretary General of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), Ethiopia's leading rights monitoring organization despite longstanding government hostility. For almost two decades the EHRCO has published investigative reports in English and Amharic on issues including summary executions, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention.
A lawyer trained in Addis Ababa and South Africa, Mulugeta led the EHRCO's investigatory unit for many years before assuming its leadership in July 2007. The human rights situation in Ethiopia has worsened steadily since the 2005 parliamentary elections, when post-election protests were violently crushed. More than a dozen of the EHRCO staff and members involved in voter education programs and election monitoring were arrested at that time. Now in Ethiopia, political repression is endemic, abuses by the military and security forces are common, and impunity for these abuses is the norm.
Moreover, the EHRCO faces a daunting struggle to survive under a repressive new NGO law. This law bans human rights work by organizations that receive funding from abroad. When the law came into effect in 2009, the EHRCO's staff was cut by almost 80 percent, its offices were searched, and its bank accounts were frozen. Fearing for his life, Mulugeta applied for and was granted asylum in the United States. He is currently based in Washington, DC, and continues to speak out about the authoritarian realities behind the Ethiopian government's democratic facade.
Human Rights Watch honors Yoseph Mulugeta for his unwavering commitment to independent civil society in Ethiopia, where freedom of expression and other fundamental rights have been eviscerated.