Three Nominees Announced for 2017 Martin Ennals Award

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First, along with other members of the Martin Ennals Award jury, today announced Karla Avelar, Mohamed Zaree, and the group FreeThe5KH as the finalists for the 2017 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. This award is given annually to a human rights defender who has shown deep commitment and has faced great personal risk to advance human rights. The aim of the award is to highlight the work of the nominees and protect them through increased visibility.

“At such a dangerous time for so many human rights defenders, these nominees represent the reality of facing daily risks and threats against themselves and their work.” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.

The first nominee, Karla Avelar, is a transgender woman in El Salvador who grew up on the streets of San Salvador, suffering discrimination, violence, exploitation, and rape. Avelar was imprisoned when she defended herself, and then regularly abused by fellow prisoners with the knowledge and even participation of the prison authorities. These terrible experiences forged her into a powerful advocate. With three others, she founded COMCAVIS TRANS, which was created to represent, defend, and promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons, with a focus on those living with HIV, as she does. She works to change legislation and the authorities’ practices, by holding them publicly to account. Notably her advocacy helped prompt authorities to segregate LGBT prisoners for their own safety, and allow for standard HIV treatments provided by the Ministry of Health.

The second nominee, FreeThe5KH, is a group of five human rights defenders who have been in pre-trial detention for almost one year because of their work with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). International bodies like the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and U.N. Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly called for their immediate and unconditional release, and a stop to judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Cambodia based on their legitimate human rights work. This comes in the context of an increasingly severe crackdown on civil society and the political opposition in Cambodia.

The final nominee is Mohamed Zaree, Egypt country director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). Zaree is responsible for CIHRS’s legal research, media outreach, and national advocacy. The organization’s work was influential in the Arab world particularly Egypt, which resulted in death threats to its director. This forced the CIHRS executive director and regional staff to move abroad to continue their work. Zaree chose to stay and is now banned from travel. He is a legal scholar coordinating research to challenge laws designed to limit NGOs activities working on human rights, such as freedom of expression and assembly. He is widely seen a unifying figure bringing together the human rights community in Egypt to advocate with a common approach.

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, International Commission of Jurists, EWDE Germany, International Service for Human Rights, and HURIDOCS. The award will be presented on October 10th at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.


Published on April 26, 2017


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