(New York) – Seven courageous and tireless advocates for human rights will be honored in November 2011 with the prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, Human Rights Watch said today. These activists from Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Russia, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe work to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression
The award is named after Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch's Africa division for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York on February 12, 2009. Des Forges was the world's leading expert on Rwanda, the 1994 genocide, and its aftermath. Human Rights Watch's annual award honors her outstanding commitment to, and defense of, human rights. It celebrates the valor of people who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others.
“From the centers of the Arab Spring to many other places where people who speak out are under threat, each of these defenders has shown incredible courage and persistence on behalf of others,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “We honor their strength and efforts, and hope that this award will increase international recognition of the abusive conditions they are trying to change.”
The recipients of Human Rights Watch's 2011 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism are:
Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and a prominent voice both before and since the January 2011 uprising in Egypt. Follow Hossam on Twitter: @hossambahgat ;
Sihem Bensedrine, a Tunisian journalist and activist who heads the Arab Working Group for Media Monitoring and serves as a spokesperson for the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia;
Anis Hidayah, executive director of Migrant Care, a leading Indonesian organization working to protect the rights of millions of migrant workers;
Farai Maguwu, director of the Center for Research and Development in eastern Zimbabwe and a leading voice against the abuses taking place in the Marange diamond fields;
Elena Milashina, an investigative journalist for Russia's leading independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta;
Sussan Tahmasebi,a civil and women's rights activist from Iran and founding member of the One Million Signatures Campaign to support women’s rights.
Human Rights Watch staff members work closely with the human rights defenders as part of the organization's research into some 90 countries around the world. The defenders will be honored at the 2011 Human Rights Watch annual dinners in Amsterdam, Beirut, Chicago, Geneva, Hamburg, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Oslo, Paris, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Toronto, and Zurich.
Hossam Bahgat, Egypt
Hossam Bahgat was at the forefront of the revolution that swept Egypt in January and February 2011, documenting violence against protesters both during and after the Tahrir uprising. He has also stepped up efforts to spur lasting institutional change and build a more rights-respecting Egypt, while continuing his work on religious freedom and the right to privacy. During this historic time, the work of Bahgat and his organization, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, is more urgent than ever. Human Rights Watch honors Bahgat for upholding the personal freedoms of all Egyptians.
Sihem Bensedrine, Tunisia
Journalist and activist Sihem Bensedrine has worked for more than two decades to expose human rights violations in Tunisia and defend freedom of expression. She co-founded the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia; the Observatory for Freedom of the Press, Publishing, and Creation; and Kalima, an independent news website and radio station. Despite being imprisoned, beaten, and continually harassed by the recently ousted Ben Ali government, Bensedrine’s public commitment to human rights never faltered. Human Rights Watch honors Bensedrine for her tremendous courage and perseverance in speaking out against abuses and championing human rights reform in Tunisia.
Anis Hidayah, Indonesia
Anis Hidayah, executive director of Jakarta-based Migrant Care, speaks out on behalf of the millions of Indonesian women and men who seek work abroad to feed their families and who face serious risk of abuse. As Migrant Care and Human Rights Watch have both documented, Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait often work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Many are not paid; some are confined, beaten, or raped by their employers. Human Rights Watch honors Hidayah for her dedication to exposing and ending egregious abuses against Indonesian migrant domestic workers.
Farai Maguwu, Zimbabwe
As director of Zimbabwe’s Center for Research and Development, Farai Maguwu has conducted extensive research documenting horrific abuses taking place in the Marange diamond fields. After Maguwu met with a monitor from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (the world’s diamond control body) in May 2010 to discuss the abuses he uncovered in Marange, he was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured on charges of providing false information. Human Rights Watch honors Maguwu for his tremendous courage in working to end the rampant violations of human rights throughout the region.
Elena Milashina, Russia
As a leading investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s most prominent independent newspaper, Elena Milashina exposes the truth about human rights abuses and government corruption. Despite Russia’s attempts to silence its critics and hide abuses, Milashina remains outspoken, publishing accounts of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture. She also plays an active role in the independent investigation into the murder of Natasha Estemirova, a leading Chechen human rights defender abducted and killed in 2009. Human Rights Watch honors Milashina for her courage to confront Russia’s deeply problematic human rights record.
Consuelo Morales, Mexico
Consuelo Morales works in Mexico to defend victims of human rights violations and hold their abusers accountable. Security forces there have committed widespread violations against civilians – including torture, rape, and “disappearances” – yet their crimes are virtually never investigated. In the face of persistent threats, Morales’s organization has led efforts in the state of Nuevo Leon to document these abuses, litigate key cases, and provide critical support for victims of both security forces and violent drug cartels. Human Rights Watch honors Morales for her courageous efforts to end impunity and aid victims of abuses in Mexico’s “war on drugs.”
Sussan Tahmasebi, Iran
Sussan Tahmasebi raises broad public awareness about how discriminatory laws violate the human rights of women in Iran. She conducts training in leadership and peace-building, and helped found the award-winning One Million Signatures Campaign, which rallies support for an end to Iran’s gender-biased laws. Tahmasebi has been harassed by security forces and was banned from traveling abroad because of her work. Human Rights Watch honors Tahmasembi for her fearless commitment to promoting civil society and bringing national prominence to women’s rights issues in Iran.