Chad, Venezuela, Kashmir Activists Share Top Rights Prize

Campaigners from troubled Kashmir, Chad and Venezuela on Thursday won the Martin Ennals Award, one of the world’s most prestigious human rights prizes, with the jury hailing their “courage.”

The winners are Khurram Parvez, a prominent rights activist in restive Indian-administered Kashmir; Delphine Djiraibe, one of Chad’s first female lawyers; and Feliciano Reyna, a rights activist and advocate for access to health care for marginalized LGBTQ people in Venezuela.

“The common denominator between the 2023 laureates … is their courage, passion and determination to bring the voice of the voiceless to the international arena, despite the ongoing, sometimes life-threatening challenges they endure,” prize jury chairman Hans Thoolen said in a statement.

“We are particularly proud to honor these three exceptional laureates who have each dedicated over 30 years of their lives to building movements which brought about justice for victims or delivered medicines to the marginalized,” he said. “They have made human rights real for thousands of people in their communities.”

The award ceremony will take place in Geneva on February 16, the organizers said. The laureates will each receive 20,000 to 30,000 Swiss francs ($22,000-33,000).

The award is managed by the Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation. The prize honors individuals and organizations that have shown exceptional commitment to defending and promoting human rights, despite the risks involved. It raises their profile and gathers international support for their work.

‘An inspiration’

The annual Martin Ennals Award, named after the first secretary-general of Amnesty International, was first given in 1994. The jury comprises representatives from 10 leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

Parvez, 45, the founder of the widely respected Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, likely will not be able to attend the ceremony, though. He has been detained by India since November 2021.

According to the prize organizers, Parvez was catapulted into nonviolent activism at age 13, when he witnessed the shooting of his grandfather during a demonstration in Kashmir.

Parvez, who is also the chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, has traveled to the most remote parts of Kashmir to collect and document stories of abuse.

“Despite continued attacks on his right to freedom of expression by the Indian government, being jailed in 2016 and losing a leg to land mines, Parvez relentlessly spoke the truth and was an inspiration,” the prize jury said, slamming his latest arrest on “politically motivated charges.”

Djiraibe, 62, meanwhile, pioneered the human rights movement in Chad, and was a key figure in bringing former dictator Hissene Habre, who brutally ruled from 1982 to 1990, to justice, the jury said.

As head of the Public Interest Law Center, she has accompanied people seeking justice for rights violations, with a growing focus on gender-based violence.

Reyna, 67, was an architect, who upon the death of his partner from AIDS in 1995 founded Accion Solidaria to provide medication and treatment to Venezuelans living with HIV and AIDS.

He later helped create the first national AIDS help line and has advocated more broadly for health care access for marginalized LGBTQ populations.

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