Human Rights First Awards Medal of Liberty to Congolese Activist Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First announced today that it will award the 2016 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty to anti-slavery activist Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The award will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in December 2016. Murairi was selected for his tireless work on behalf of vulnerable rural populations to combat contemporary forms of slavery in the mining sector in the DRC.
“Janvier Murairi’s courageous work to combat modern-day slavery and corruption have enabled rural communities to assert their rights under domestic and international law, and led to the development of due diligence guidelines in the mining industry,” said Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “In difficult and dangerous circumstances, Janvier is making a real difference in the lives of extremely vulnerable people. We are honored to recognize him with this prestigious award.”
“It is our hope that this award will increase Janvier’s visibility as a human rights defender, offering a measure of protection for him and increasing both local and international attention to the fight against modern slavery in the mining sector in the DRC,” said Daryl Libow, who chaired the 2016 Baldwin Award jury and is a member of Human Rights First’s Board of Directors.
For more than two decades, the DRC has been beset by armed conflicts directly related to the exploitation of its natural resources, creating a dangerous environment for human rights work. In the face of serious threats and challenging work conditions, Murairi advocates for change with international standard-setting bodies, national governments, local authorities in North Kivu, economic actors, civil society coalitions, and others. His work as the co-founder and president of the Association for the Development of Peasant Initiatives (ASSODIP) exposes corruption, contemporary forms of slavery, and the degrading living and working conditions of rural communities. Murairi has also participated in the creation of the Coalition of Anti-Slavery Civil Society Organizations (COSCAE), which works across all the areas in which modern slavery still persists.
“Crimes related to slavery constitute one of the worst violations of human dignity,” said Murairi. “In the Democratic Republic of Congo, modern slavery exists in multiple forms and we work to curtail it. This recognition, by way of this award, is for me an invitation and an encouragement to work even harder to advance the human rights of the most vulnerable populations. It energizes me to struggle passionately against all forms of modern slavery. Modern slavery has no place in today’s world. Everyone has a role to play in this fight. I hope that more people, in Congo and elsewhere, will combine their efforts with ours (mine, that of my colleagues, and those of the community-based groups involved) so that this reprehensible word can from now on be conjugated in the past tense.”
The Medal of Liberty is named in honor of Roger N. Baldwin, principal founder of both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the International League for Human Rights. The award was established in 1989 and is presented in alternating years by Human Rights First, which awards international human rights advocates, and the ACLU, which awards advocates in the United States. The 2016 Baldwin Jury was composed of prominent activists and members of the business and legal communities, including Daryl Libow (Chair), Managing Partner of the Washington office of Sullivan & Cromwell; Alexa Aviles, Program Director at The Scherman Foundation; Kholoud Saber Barakat, 2014 Medal of Liberty honoree and Egyptian human rights activist; Agnes Callamard, Director of Columbia University Global Freedom of Expression; Josh Charles, Actor; Larry Cox, Co-Director of Kairos; Diana Daniels, Independent Trustee of Goldman Sachs Mutual Funds; Caitlin Heising, Vice Chair of the Heising-Simons Foundation; Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer at the UN High Commission for Human Rights; Jim Leitner, President of Falcon Management; Emily Martinez, Director of Open Society Foundation’s Human Rights Initiative; Lia Parifax, Director of Executive Initiatives at Arcus Foundation; Jay Pelosky, Principal at J2Z Advisory; and Lukasz Wenerski, Policy Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs in Poland.