The 2019 MEA Laureate: Abdul Aziz Muhamat
Sudanese refugee activist Abdul Aziz Muhamat is the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate. He was among three finalists, selected last October by a jury of ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations (list below), together with Marino Cordoba Berrio (Colombia) and Eren Keskin (Turkey). The three of them were honoured today during a ceremony organized by the City of Geneva.
“This award sheds light on the very cruel refugee policy of the Australian Government. It also brings international attention to the dangers and ill-treatment faced by refugees all over the world, including in countries that claim they uphold the Refugee Convention”, he declared.
Safe and free
Abdul Aziz Muhamat was fleeing war in Darfour. In October 2013, he was forcibly transferred to the island of Manus (Papua New Guinea), as part of Australia’s “offshore” refugee policy, when the boat he was on was intercepted by the authorities. More than five years on, he is still stranded on the island, like hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, and subject to deprivation, harassment, humiliation and violence.
“This young man was only 20 when he first arrived on Manus Island. Since then, he never stopped raising his voice for those who have been stripped of their most basic rights together with him. He showed extraordinary tenacity and courage, always resisting peacefully even after a police officer shot him in the leg”, explained Dick Oosting, Chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation. “The Australian Government must meet its international obligations and put an end to these inhumane practices.”
Living conditions on Manus Island have been denounced by human rights organizations. “Men are dying, notably for lack of appropriate medical care. Some of them have committed suicide. We need safety, we need freedom, we need hope. Opposing this cruel system helps preserve my self-esteem and my human dignity”, he explained. “I will continue to fight until all of us are safe and free.”
Two other human rights defenders were among the finalists for the 2019 Martin Ennals Award. Marino Cordoba Berrio (Colombia) is a leading figure within the Afro-Colombian community, which has been repeatedly stripped of its rights and lands. For two decades, he has been struggling for the rights of his ethnic and other marginalized groups, at the risk of his own life in a country where more than 400 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in the past two years.
« Historically, we have suffered from political, economic and social exclusion. To seek and obtain justice for my people is crucial for our survival. Under the peace agreement and thanks to our efforts, ethnic groups’ rights are recognized and so is the need to protect them. It’s high time for the government of Colombia to meet its commitments and put an end to the escalating violence affecting our communities », stressed Marino Cordoba Berrio.
Eren Keskin (Turkey) is a lawyer who has been engaged for over 30 years in advancing the rights of women, Kurds and LGBTI+ notably. Recently, she was sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison for supporting the shuttered pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem. She has been accused of denigrating the Nation and insulting the President in her chronicles.
“Freedom of expression and freedom of thought are severely punished in Turkey nowadays. The government tolerates no dissenting voices. I know that by resisting we can change the world. Thank you for not forgetting us. Your solidarity and support give me the courage to continue the struggle”, she said.