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2016 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism Honorees. Clockwise: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa (Burundi), Ratnaboli Ray (India), Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Kalpona Akter (Bangladesh), Yonous Muhammadi (Greece) © 2014 Teddy Mazina, Byloom, Ilan, 2016 Shariful Islam Sourav, Photo courtesy of Yonous Muhammadi

(New York) – Four courageous and tireless advocates for human rights are the 2016 recipients of the prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, Human Rights Watch said today.

The winners, leading voices for justice in their countries, are Kalpona Akter, a former child worker in Bangladesh garment factories who organized fellow garment workers to demand fair labor rights; Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who has dedicated his life to denouncing rights violations against prisoners, activists, and people from all social, ethnic, and economic backgrounds in Burundi; Yonous Muhammadi, who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan, was granted asylum in Greece, and has become a leading defender of refugee rights there; and Ratnaboli Ray, who is fighting to move India toward a rights-based system of care for people with mental health conditions.

“The Alison Des Forges Award honors people who have spent their lives defending some of the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable people,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The honorees work courageously and selflessly every day, often under the most difficult and dangerous conditions.”

The award is named for Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on February 12, 2009. Des Forges was the world’s leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath. The Human Rights Watch 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 create a world free from abuse, discrimination, and oppression.

The four 2016 honorees will be honored at the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners, held in more than 20 cities worldwide. They will be joined by Nicholas Opiyo from Uganda, a past international recipient of the award.

Akter will be honored in Geneva; Mbonimpa in Santa Barbara and Paris; Muhammadi in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco; and Ray in Toronto. Opiyo will be honored at a dinner in Munich.

For more information about the recipients, please read below or visit:

About the Recipients

Kalpona Akter, Bangladesh
Kalpona Akter toiled long hours as a child in Bangladesh garment factories. She suffered retribution for organizing fellow garment workers to demand fair labor rights, but was not deterred. Human Rights Watch honors Kalpona Akter’s dedication to championing the rights of workers in Bangladesh’s garment factories.

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, Burundi
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa has dedicated his life to denouncing rights violations against prisoners, activists, and individuals from all social, ethnic, and economic backgrounds in Burundi. His work has made him a target and, in 2015, he narrowly survived an attempted assassination. Human Rights Watch honors Pierre Claver Mbonimpa for his extraordinary courage in the face of the brutal crackdown on freedom of expression in Burundi.

Yonous Muhammadi, Greece
Yonous Muhammadi is a leading defender of refugee rights in Greece, where he secured asylum after fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. He conducts outreach aimed at informing refugees of their rights in Greece, providing access to medical services, and remedying inadequate reception conditions. Human Rights Watch honors Yonous Muhammadi for his unwavering courage and commitment to protecting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in Greece.

Ratnaboli Ray, India
For more than two decades, Ratnaboli Ray has been a leading advocate for the rights of people with mental health conditions in India. Ray spearheads efforts to halt abuses in government institutions, combat stigma, and provide skills training. Human Rights Watch honors Ratnaboli Ray for leading the fight – often at great personal risk – to move India toward a rights-based system of mental health care.

Nicholas Opiyo, Uganda
Nicholas Opiyo is a leading human rights lawyer and founder of Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights organization. He has successfully argued several high-level constitutional challenges, including to the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013, which was declared null and void in August 2014. Human Rights Watch honors Nicholas Opiyo for his unfaltering dedication to upholding the human rights of all Ugandans by promoting universal access to justice.

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