(New York, February 7, 2019) – A courageous advocate for the rights of refugees and people with disabilities is the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, Human Rights Watch announced today.

© Chris Floyd

The winner, Nujeen Mustafa, is a leading voice for justice in her country, Syria. Mustafa was born with cerebral palsy, unable to walk without assistance. She never attended school and taught herself English by watching American soap operas.  In January 2014, when she was 16, she began a 5,600-kilometer journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. She has become a powerful voice for human rights, sharing the harrowing story of her journey to move hearts and change policies.

“These extraordinary individuals confront tremendous challenges every day in their efforts to curb human rights violations and bring abusers to justice,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “As their work inspires us, we hope this award, named for Alison Des Forges, will provide some modicum of protection for their struggle.”

Dr. Alison Des Forges was a 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 2019 honoree will be honored at the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners, held in more than 20 cities worldwide.

For more information about the recipient, please visit:

About the Recipient

Nujeen Mustafa, Syria
Nujeen Mustafa is a powerful advocate for the rights of refugees and people with disabilities. Beginning in January 2014, at age 16, she made a grueling 16-month journey from Syria to Germany in a wheelchair. “You should fight to get what you want in this world,” she told a BBC reporter in a now-viral video. Mustafa later shared her story in the book, The Girl from Aleppo: Nujeen’s Escape from War to Freedom, co-authored with British prize-winning journalist Christina Lamb. Mustafa formed a unique partnership with Human Rights Watch, together with a regional disability rights group and a major humanitarian organization, to provide a powerful account that has helped move policymakers in the European Union to require that delivery of humanitarian aid meets the needs of people with disabilities.