Homo Homini AwardPublished: Mar 19, 2020 Reading time: 23 minutes
Every year, at the launch of the One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, People in Need confers the Homo Homini award to individuals who have greatly contributed to the promotion of human rights and democracy and nonviolent solutions to political conflicts.
This year’s laureate is Mahienour El-Massry. She is an Egyptian human rights lawyer known for her activism and work to promote judicial independence and prisoners' rights by organizing peaceful protests, raising awareness through social media, and organizing support for political prisoners in the form of solidarity events and fundraising bail for prisoners. She supported and defended the prisoners even when she was imprisoned herself.
Mahienour's activism includes a broad scale of human rights work. She has been a tireless activist for victims of political violence, and her solidarity has often served to raise protestors’ morale. She has spent long nights guarding Syrian refugees in police stations to ensure they are not tortured or deported; worked to locate missing people lost in the country’s security labyrinth; and defended those who protested during Egypt’s uprising 12 years ago.
The Homo Homini Award for 2020 was presented to four detained members of the Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, namely to Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa.
The four has been persecuted for tracking detained protestors, documenting human rights violations and helping victims of police violence. They face up to 12 years in prison for legitimate human rights activities.
Viasna is one of the leading human rights organizations in Belarus and its activities are crucial to Belarusian dissidents. In last year’s violent suppression of post-election protests, members of the organization played a key role in monitoring and documenting human rights violations, while tracking detainees and providing assistance to victims of police violence. Viasna members continued their work even in the face of detention and interrogation. Having committed no crime, Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa are nonetheless facing long prison sentences.
The 2019 Homo Homini Award was presented to Tajik lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov for his commitment to defending basic human rights and to assure a fair trial to all citizens of Tajikistan.
Mr. Yorov has been promoting human rights in Tajikistan for many years despite facing severe persecution as a result of his work. He did not hesitate to defend clients who were targeted by politically motivated charges, whose cases other lawyers were not willing to take. He publicly complained in an interview that one of his clients was being subjected to torture while in pre-trial detention. As a result of doing his job, this prominent lawyer lost both his property and his freedom.
In 2015, Mr Yorov was one of few lawyers who agreed to represent 13 members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and was himself arrested on the same day the Supreme Court of Tajikistan labelled the IRPT a terrorist organization. Police raided both his home and legal office without a warrant. Yorov was detained and ultimately charged with forgery, fraud, “arousing national, racial, local or religious hostility” and extremism. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Francisca Ramírez – leader of a Nicaraguan democratic movement whose determination to stand up against land appropriation and an authoritarian regime has inspired human rights defenders throughout her country.
From the difficult position of a poor farmer, Francisca Ramírez has managed to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to demand the chance to influence decisions that affect their lives in one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, where the iron rule of President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo is now in its thirteenth year. Because of her activities, Ramírez has been repeatedly detained, harasses, and threatened with death.
She first became interested in politics in 2013, when Nicaragua’s government signed a contract with Chinese company HKND Group which enabled extensive land appropriations that affected the local inhabitants, including small-scale farmers, who have lived in the area for generations.
The 2017 Homo Homini award has been awarded to persecuted Vietnamese blogger Pham Doan Trang. She tirelessly stands up against oppression on her blog by documenting the injustices committed by the communist regime despite being continually harassed and persecuted by the state. While in hiding, Pham Doan Trang still manages to write, even though the consequences can mean up to 14 years in prison.
Independent media do not exist in Vietnam, and so her articles, which comment on the situation in the country and are critical to the current regime, are published through two different channels: on her Facebook page, which has 40 thousand followers, and on her blog, which is visited by approximately 20 thousand people a day. Her recently published samizdat book – Politics for All – presents and explains basic political concepts. Despite its distribution being prohibited in Vietnam, Trang hopes for the internet to help her spread its contents to as many as possible.
Pham Doan Trang is one of many important figures of the Vietnamese dissent, using words to fight for the freedom of country. More info here.
The Homo Homini award for 2016 will be conferred to the Russian non-governmental organization Committee for the Prevention of Torture. They are being awarded the prize for the courage and stamina they maintain in order to assist those who are victims of torture, police harassment and violence and impunity, while also defending their rights not only before Russian authorities, but also on the international level.
“No matter who you are, you will never be safe from torture in Russia,” says the founder of the organization, Igor Kalyapin, who entered the fight for human rights after he himself became a victim of police brutality. The achievements of his organization include for example the cancellation of 793 unlawful decisions, the conviction of 127 perpetrators, and the securing of 51 million rubles in compensation for a number of torture victims through court hearings. More info here.
In 2003, during the so called Black Spring, Cuban government imprisoned 75 Cuban dissidents, sentenced to 6-28 years of jail. Due to the international pressure most of them were released in 2010 and strongly pressured and threatened to go into exiled. However, some of them decided to stay, despite the “Extrapenal License” allowing the government to put them again into prison at any time.
Today, only eleven of these 75 remain in Cuba fighting to bring Democracy back to the country, still threatened by government and with no right to travel abroad. The Homo Homini award for 2015 goes to these 11 dissidents who represent all fighters for rights and democracy in Cuba. More info here.
Souad Nawfal, a school teacher and activist, has been given the 2014 Homo Homini Award for her perseverance and the fortitude with which she stood against the injustices carried out by President Bashar Assad's regime and the so-called Islamic State, regardless of the threat to her personal safety.
Souad Nawfal became renowned after protesting daily against the behavior of ISIS in Syria for two and a half months in the summer of 2013. Her struggle for freedom and justice, however, had started much earlier when she turned against the oppression and injustices being committed by the Assad regime. When the revolution broke out in Syria, she was among the first who stopped being afraid of pro-government militias and openly expressed her desire for the regime's downfall and began organizing demonstrations. She helped internal displaced people (IDPs) and never stopped fighting for freedom even after she was dismissed from her job. After ISIS troops began to control Raqqa, she went for two and a half months to protest in front of their headquarters by holding up signs that spoke out against violence, abduction and restrictions on freedoms on the part of ISIS. Read more here.
Sapiyat Magomedova, a young lawyer working in Dagestan, received the Award for her great personal courage and sticking to her strong principles as in her job she is exposed to violence, personal threats and other real dangers.
Sapiyat Magomedova represents clients in very sensitive cases that other lawyers refuse as they fear for their safety. Four years ago, the police attacked her when she wanted to visit a client. The attack has not yet been investigated. Magomedova also represents victims of sexual violence which is still a taboo subject in the region where bridal kidnapping and child marriages still occur. She managed to pass some cases on to the European Court of Human Rights as well as make public comments on the human rights violations in Dagestan. Read more here.
Intigam Aliyev, human rights lawyer from Azerbaijan, received the Award for his personal courage and exceptional commitment to defending persecuted individuals.
Intigam Aliyev is president of the Legal Education Society, an independent Azerbaijani non-governmental organisation founded in 1998 and aimed at achieving the development of legal consciousness and legal culture in Azerbaijani society. The organisation is engaged in defending human rights, preparation of strategic litigation cases, training of lawyers and supplying human rights education. Aliyev has submitted more than 200 cases to the European Court of Human Rights. His actions were successful in a number of cases concerning the right to vote, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial. In addition, he provided legal aid to a number of activists persecuted for peaceful protests uncovering corruption and critical articles concerning to the trials. In august 2014 Aliyev was arrested and put on remand detention for alleged tax evasion, illegal business and abuse of authority (read more here) and in April 2015 he was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
The Azerbaijani authorities released Intigam Aliyev after 20 months in prison on the 28th March 2016.
Doctors Coordinate of Damascus is a network of healthcare workers that provides clandestine medical aid to injured civilians of the 2011-2012 Syrian uprising. The group treats bystanders cut off from regular medical care by the ongoing violence as well as injured protesters who would be at risk during the regular security sweeps of local hospitals. According to Amnesty International, injured protesters face arrest and torture if found in Syrian hospitals, and in some cases medical staff has even participated in the torture of the patients. In other cases, injured opposition members have been forcibly disconnected from medical equipment, including respirators. In the summer of 2011, the Doctors Coordinate constructed a clandestine field hospital to treat the growing number of wounded.
Azimjan Askarov, Kyrgyz activist, painter and writer, has defended human rights and the interests of those unjustly accused. Askarov was sentenced to life imprisonment in a manipulated trial so his son received the Homo Homini award in his place.
Along with Askarov seven other people were convicted and sentenced to long term imprisonment. The award is symbolically intended for human rights defenders in the region of Central Asia where the most repressive regimes in the world exist. The outlook for human rights defenders in these regions is dismal with the number of political prisoners reaching into the thousands. Askarov worked in exceptionally difficult conditions in a relatively remote part of one of the provinces of Kyrgyzstan. He highlighted torture in prisons and defended the rights of those who were unjustly accused. He managed to force the government to initiate new investigations and punish police officers who violated human rights. He was accused of involvement in the murder of a police officer who died in 2010 during riots between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the Bazar-Kurgan region and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Majid Tavakoli and Abdollah Momeni. The 2009 Homo Homini award was given to two Iranian student leaders Majid Tavakoli and Abdollah Momeni who have been repeatedly chased, kept in prison and tortured for political reasons. In addition, the Iranian Student Movement received a symbolic award for their work and achievements spanning two generations. Tavakoli is participating in public activities such as fighting against human rights violations and for the political rights of citizens. He has been active since 2006 when he was arrested for the first time and imprisoned for fifteen months for offences to Islam and Iranian government. Since then he has been continuously chased. The last time he was arrested he was sentenced in January 2010 to eight years imprisonment (released in 2013).
The second awarded, Abdollah Momeni, belongs to an older generation of student leaders and supporters of the Iranian "Green movement" which means supporters of pro-reform thinking. As a prominent member of pro-democratic opposition he has achieved fame mostly for his activism during the riots in 1999 when he was for political reasons continuously persecuted, kept in prison and tortured. As well as Majid Tavakoli, who follows in the student movement activities the legacy of Momeni´s opposition activity, he was also sentenced to eight years of imprisonment (released in 2014).
Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese literary critic and dissident, currently imprisoned for political reasons. The reason for awarding Mr. Liu Xiaobo with the Homo Homini prize is his complex attitude to asserting human rights and his bravery in fighting for freedom of speech for more than twenty years now.
In spring 1989, at the time when the protest movement at Tchien-an-men square begun, he was actively engaged in the protests. Finally, he was among the last ones who stayed at the square helping to get the rest of the protesters to safety. He was imprisoned for the first time after the Tchien-an-men square massacre. After getting his freedom back he started publishing his articles abroad. He became a co-founder of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre of which he is the honorable president. In 2008 he became one of the authors and first signatories of the 2008 Charter. According to the Charter, Liu Xiaobo has been sentenced to eleven years of imprisonment for "Inciting subversion of state power". The imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo has brought about disapproving reactions from all around the world. On the 8th of October 2010, despite the protests of Chinese government, he became a laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Su Su Nway, Phyu Phyu Thin and Nilar Thein are three Burmese human rights defenders, awarded with the Homo Homini prize for defending civil rights and rights of the tortured and persecuted. All three of these women were kept in prison for the same reasons or had to hide from the military regime.
The first of the awarded, Su Su Nway, is a prominent Burmese activist and a member of the National League for Democracy. As a first Burmese citizen she has succeeded in attacking the Burmese military junta (SPDC) for its gruesome practices in forced labour. After that she was kept in prison for eight months and a second imprisonment followed in 2008 (released 2011). Her last conflict with the state authorities occurred in the summer of 2014 on a demonstration for rights of local farmers.
Phyu Phyu Thin is a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a well-known defender of people infected with HIV. With her colleagues she has founded a clinic in Rangoon, intended for HIV-positive patients who are not supported by the state hospitals. Phyu Phyu Thin was arrested and imprisoned twice, for the last time in 2007 in connection with her activity in the NLD. For some time she was forced into hiding so the clinic was run by her colleagues. In the present time she is a member of the national assembly in Burma.
The last one awarded, Nilar Thein, is a Burmese activist, who was imprisoned for fighting for the support of democracy between the years 2008 and 2012. She was declared by Amnesty International as a "prisoner of conscience", which means that she was imprisoned for her beliefs, race or political opinions.
Svetlana Gannushkina is a Russian human rights activist. At the end of the 80s, during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, she was tending to the needs of refugees.
In 1990 she had co-founded a non-governmental organisation "Citizen Help" which was campaigning for the protection of human rights and integration of migrants and refugees into the Russian society. She is also a co-founder of the human rights center "Memorial". During the first and second Chechen War she began showing a concern for protecting human rights of Chechen people. She also made a contribution to the foundation of the Law Center, an UNHCR Center for Providing Humanitarian Aid to Refugees or a Psychological Help Center for Traumatized Children. In Moscow she has founded a center where volunteers are teaching Russian, English or math to Chechen children who could not attend school because of the conflict. Nowadays, Svetlana Gannuskhina is a member of the Council for the Development of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights. For her activities she was, besides others, awarded with a Nansen Award and also she is a serious contender for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Svetlana Gannushkina visited Prague in November 2014. See what she thinks about international human rights support.
Ales Bialiatski, a representative of democratic Belarusian opposition and a head of the biggest Belarusian humanitarian organisation Viasna, received the Homo Homini award for his extraordinary contribution in defending rights of his fellow citizens and providing help to the victims of politically motivated repressions.
When the dictatorial regime in Belarus had brutally repressed the demonstrations of its opponents, Bialiatsky started with helping their families. In 2011 Ales Bialiatsky was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion. The incentive for the prosecution was the existence of Polish and Lithuanian bank accounts of his organisation Viasna. The money was intended to help the victims of the Belarusian regime. The arrest has provoked an international disagreement as Amnesty International declared Bialiatsky a prisoner of consciousness on the 11th of August.He was finally released in June 2014. In 2012 Bialiatsky was nominated for his work, humanity and courage for the Sakharov Prize – a prize annually awarded by the European Parliament to people fighting for human rights. In September 2013 he was historically the first person awarded with the international Václav Havel prize for human rights, which is awarded jointly by the Council of Europe, Charta 77 Foundation and the Václav Havel Library.
Gheorghe Briceag was a Moldavian activist, a Soviet gulag prisoner for many years and an opponent of the Soviet regime. In the 40s he was sentenced for the distribution of anti-communist leaflets and kept in a gulag for ten years.
During all this time he was forced to work in mines. After his release from the gulag he was expelled from the country for seven years. Later he became a symbol of resistance to the Soviet occupation of Moldavia. The Homo Homini price was given to him for his persistent effort in defending human rights and for personal activities in defending former gulag prisoners in the territory of Moldavia. In the following year he was a part of the jury of Rudolf Vrba at the International Human Rights Documentary Festival organised by People in Need. In the same year he made a stand against the repeated installation of Vladimir Lenin´s statue in his home city of Bălţi. The Moldovan Supreme Court has finally cancelled the decision of the Bălţi City council which gave permission for the installation. Briceag was also cooperating with Amnesty International. He died in 2008.
Nataša Kandić is a prominent Serbian activist, human rights defender and a founder of a Centre for Humanitarian Law in Belgrade – an organisation fighting for human rights and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia.
The Homo Homini award was given to her for a long-term defense of human rights and for her personal bravery in clarifying crimes against humanity committed in the area of former Yugoslavia. She was, with enormous courage, publishing information about these crimes committed by Serbian units during the Balkan conflict from Bosnia to Kosovo. Kandić has received many international awards for her work, but in her home country she is perceived very controversially, also because she was sued for libel by Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić after her comments about him in 2006. In 2009 she was fined by the court. This sentence has been criticised by many non-government organisations around the world as unjust. In 2013 Kandic was awarded a prize from the Civil Rights Defenders organisation.
Thích Huyền Quang, Thích Quảng Độ and Nguyễn Văn Lý, a trio of prominent human rights defenders and advocates of democracy and religious freedom in Vietnam. Senior Buddhist leaders Thích Huyền Quang and Thích Quảng Độ had been held in prison since 1982 for promotion of religious freedom. Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest, was also imprisoned for the same reason.
First of the laureates, Thích Huyền Quang was a Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam until his death in 2008. He repeatedly urged representatives of power in Vietnam to accede to democratic reforms, to allow for political parties and to announce free elections. For his peaceful activism he has been repeatedly detained by police and jailed. In 1997 he was formally released, but in fact remained under heavily guarded house arrest.
The second laureate, Thích Quảng Độ is a Buddhist monk, scholar and writer, one of the leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and its Patriarch since 2008. All his life he strove for justice and the application of the Buddhist message of peace, compassion and tolerance. For his active promotion of religious freedom, human rights and democracy, Thích Quảng Độ spent many years in prison and re-education camps. Along with Thích Huyền Quang, he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The last of the three, Nguyễn Văn Lý, is a Roman Catholic priest. Because of his defence of religious freedom and his criticising the regime in Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Lý was repeatedly arrested imprisoned and subjected to brutal treatment. Last time he was sentenced in 2007 and up to this day he remains in prison.
Zackie Achmat is a South African activist, best known as the founder and chairman of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and thanks to his work on behalf of people living with HIV in South Africa.
The campaign, which he unleashed with great personal commitment was intended to reduce the price of AIDS drugs in Third World countries. Achmat himself is HIV positive and to protest against the unavailability of medicines for AIDS he himself stopped using them. Thanks to his campaign the Supreme Court ordered the South African government to extend the availability of antiretroviral nevirapine which reduces the risk of transmission of HIV from mother to child in the state-run hospitals. AIDS is one the most serious risks that directly threaten the lives of tens of millions of people and also the long-term development of entire regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to the issue of AIDS, Treatment Action Campaign points out the major issues related to the ethics of international trade. For his social and political activities in South Africa, Zackie Achmat has been arrested several times, most recently in 2013.
Min Ko Nain A student leader and a long-term political prisoner of the military regime in Burma. In 1988 Min Ko Naing was the Leader of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and a key figure of the 8-8-88 Uprising.
He was imprisoned shortly after. It was only after fifteen years that he was released in 2004 and additionally, the torture he suffered caused permanent health damage. In 2007 Min Ko Naing got involved in organising the protests later to be known as the Saffron Revolution. As a result, he was sent to prison again having been sentenced to 65 years. In January 2013 he was released. In total, he spent 20 years of his life in prison.Min Ko Naing still remains one of the most influential political figures in Burma. Currently he is involved in the founding a new museum documenting the Burmese pro-democracy struggle. In spite of officially receiving the Homo Homini award in 2000, Min Ko Naing received the award personally only in October 2013 when he visited Prague.
Read more about the visit here.
The video from the Homo Homini Award ceremony can be watched here.
Oswaldo Payá Sardiňas, The central figure in the Cuban Christian opposition movement and a leading personality in the Varela Project. In 1987 Sardiňas founded a Christian liberation movement which was aimed against the Cuban communist regime. He was also behind a widespread petition act known as project Varela. This initiative was signed by no less than 25,000 people and its aim was to incorporate democratic measures into the Cuban law system. It called for free speech, freedom of the press and assembly, introduction of private property, free elections or release of political prisoners.
Project Varela is often compared to the Czech Charter 77 because it is a document acceptable for all opposition groups, including Cubans living in Miami. Sardiňas died in a car accident in 2012. This event is surrounded by controversies and lot of people regard it as an assassination.
Ibrahim Rugova was the first president of Kosovo. A thinker and a writer, Rugova was a prominent figure within the movement which sought independence for Kosovo.
He advocated a non-violent opposition against the government of Yugoslavia and called for American and European support, especially during the war in Kosovo. He tried to strengthen the identity of the country and to pursue a closer relationship with the West. Rugovina died in 2006 from lung cancer. Today, he is warmly remembered by ordinary citizens of Kosovo as the "father of the nation“ or as the "Ghandi of the Balkans."
Szeto Wah was a well-known politician from Hong Kong. He received the Homo Homini award for longtime criticism of the dictatorship in China, for his effort in democratising Hong Kong and last but not least for his struggle in supporting human rights in Hong Kong after it was handed over to communist China.
After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 Szeto Wah resolutely condemned this violent act and shortly after that was thrown out of the official commission which had the task to draft a new constitution. Wah was elected as a member of the Hong Kong parliament on numerous occasions. As a politician he was respected for his strong principles and his foresight. He died in 2011.
Sergej Kovaljov is a renowned Russian human rights activist and a former Soviet dissident and a political prisoner. During the era of the Soviet Union Kovalev belonged to a group of 14 activists who formed the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in 1969. In the years of perestroika he contributed to a foundation of several key humanitarian organisations and initiatives.
After the implosion of the Soviet Union Kovalev took part in official politics and in 1991 he became one of the co-authors of the declaration of human and civil rights in Russia. Kovalev is a very straightforward critic of the authoritarian tendencies of Vladimir Putin (previously also Boris Yeltsin). In March 2010 Kovalev signed the on-line anti-Putin manifesto of the Russian opposition campaign "Putin must go".
Founded in 1992 and having worked in over 40 countries around the world, People in Need is predominantly focused on humanitarian, development and human rights support. It is also the organizer of the One World documentary film festival that has grown to be the largest showcase of human rights documentaries in the world. Until his passing away, the Homo Homini award has traditionally been handed over by the former Czech President Václav Havel.