Today, the Department of State announced the winners of the annual Global Human Rights Defender Awards. Protecting and supporting human rights defenders remains a key U.S. foreign policy priority as they are integral to democracy, access to justice, a vibrant civil society, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability.
As we celebrate both the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, we are pleased to honor this cohort of Awardees – ten individuals from around the globe who have demonstrated leadership and courage while promoting and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms; countering and exposing human rights abuses by governments and businesses; and rallying action to protect the environment, improve governance, and secure accountability and an end to impunity.
This year’s cohort represents defenders with varied backgrounds and far-reaching potential. From working to combat slavery denialism to promoting election and labor rights, all ten honorees embody the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
These awards are determined by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
This year’s awardees are:
Mohammad Nur Khan – Bangladesh
Over the past three decades, Mr. Khan led two of Bangladesh’s best-known domestic rights organizations and partnered with international organizations to document human rights abuses and promote accountability in Bangladesh. His timely interventions, advocacy on behalf of families of victims of enforced disappearances, and leadership amongst the country’s active civil society networks, have saved lives and cleared innocent victims of politically motivated charges.
Elaize de Souza Farias – Brazil
Ms. De Souza is a cutting edge Indigenous investigative journalist based in Manaus, Amazonas who co-founded in 2013 the independent news agency Amazônia Real, the first non-profit investigative journalism agency based in the Amazon. She reports on issues of the environment, agriculture, Indigenous and traditional peoples, ethnicity, race, gender, and the fight against violence in the Amazon, linking these themes to the larger issues of belonging and identity.
Chhim Sithar – Cambodia
Ms. Sithar leads the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at one of the most politically connected businesses in Cambodia, the lucrative NagaWorld Resort and Casino. In late 2021, Ms. Sithar led NagaWorld employees in a strike demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of eight jailed union leaders and nearly 370 others they said were unjustly fired from the casino. Amid harassment and her arrest in 2022, Ms. Sithar continues to speak out about labor rights.
Nino Lomjaria and Team – Georgia
Ms. Lomjaria served as Public Defender of Georgia from 2017 through 2022. Under her leadership, the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) was widely considered the most independent democratic institution in Georgia. Throughout her tenure, Nino and her team advocated strengthened human rights protections for all, at times under intense political pressure; they maintained their independence throughout. The PDO’s work to fight discrimination, and to defend the rights of children, people with disabilities, prisoners, LGBTQI+ persons, and members of religious minorities, without regard to political affiliation, has endeavored to build a democratic state that lives up to the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of its citizens.
Rosa Melania Reyes Velásquez – Honduras
Ms. Reyes has spent decades fighting violence against women in Honduras, confronting aggressors, abusers, gang members, and at times, representatives of her own government. In her 28 years at the Women’s Movement for Colonia López Arellano and Surroundings, Ms. Reyes has spurred action to secure accountability and end impunity, assisting more than 7,300 women in their fight for justice.
Nasrin Sotoudeh – Iran
Ms. Sotoudeh is a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer and leading activist. She has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 pro-democracy protests, religious and ethnic minorities suffering persecution, as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors. She has been frequently imprisoned since 2010, including in solitary confinement, and in March 2019 she was sentenced to a cumulative 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for providing legal defense services to women charged with crimes for not wearing a hijab.
The legal team of the Badinan detainees, led by Bashdar Hassan – Iraq
Mr. Hassan is an Iraqi human rights lawyer who headed a group of lawyers who served as defense counsel for the “Badinan detainees” – a group of journalists, activists, and protesters that Amnesty International stated were “arbitrarily arrested” and “forcibly disappeared” in Badinan (Duhok Province) in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. The team represented these high-profile cases at great personal and professional risk, facing intimidation efforts, harassment, and anonymous death threats.
Mohamed Ely El Her – Mauritania
Thanks to Mr. El Her’s hard work spanning several decades, his community has made monumental progress in securing land rights for former victims of slavery. He won hard-fought land battles in the years when the government of Mauritania refused to admit slavery existed, and today continues to share best practices to help other communities of former slaves and Afro-Mauritanians to overcome their own land ownership issues.
Ding Jiaxi – People’s Republic of China
Mr. Ding’s human rights advocacy in the People’s Republic of China goes back over a decade when he helped begin the New Citizen’s Movement, which supported independent candidates to run in local elections, launched campaigns calling for government officials to disclose their personal finances, called for property rights, and demanded educational access for migrant children. Mr. Ding has reportedly been in pre-trial detention for his activism and subject to inhumane and brutal treatment since 2019 and according to reports was tried in secret in 2022 with no verdict announced.
Ekoue David Joseph Dosseh – Togo
Dr. Dosseh has been active in building capacity of Togolese civil society, fighting against injustice and impunity, and promoting democratic advancement across the region for over 15 years. As a doctor, Dosseh inspired unity and solidarity across medical professions and regions to present a united front, securing better working conditions for a range of medical staff. Dr. Dosseh’s recent activism centers around building a regional and international creative approach to enforce presidential term limits in West Africa.