Three Human Rights Defenders Selected as Finalists for the Martin Ennals Award 2011

April 30, 2011

The Martin Ennals Award is a unique collaboration of ten international human rights organisations which constitute the Jury: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line, International Commission of Jurists, German Diakonie, International Service for Human Rights and HURIDOCS.

The five nominees are: Ms Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera (Uganda), Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra (Mexico), Mr. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan), Mr. Pacifique Nininahazwe (Burundi), and Ms Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia (Nicaragua).

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is a Ugandan woman born in 1980, founder and Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, the only lesbian, bisexual and transgender women rights organization in the country. Kasha has had the courage to appear on national television in Uganda, she has issued press statements on behalf of the gay community, and spoke on several radio stations. Already in 2007 she was brutally harassed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi. Later for appearing in the media she was again hackled, threatened and even attacked by people. Since then she has been shifting from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place. On 26 January 2011 one of her colleagues, gay activist David Kato, was murdered following the publication of a “gay list” by the tabloid Rolling Stone calling for their hanging; in this black list Kasha Jacqueline’s name also appears.

Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, born in 1945, is a Mexican catholic priest, Coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Care Centre for Migrants in Southwestern Mexico. He is engaged in helping Central American migrants crossing Mexico. In 2007 he opened a shelter for injured migrants and/or in need of help in the city of Ixtepec. He has publicly condemned Mexican officials’ treatment of irregular migrants, making him increasingly vulnerable to attacks. Since 2008, local media often report false stories blaming the shelter for housing migrants who are suspected of committing criminal offences. The life of father Solalinde is in danger.

Pacifique Nininahazwe is a Burundian citizen born in 1976, President of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society. Pacifique is considered a key spokesperson for the human rights community. He is leading the struggle to counter-balance the trend of increasing repression by coordinating civil society to speak with one voice – a measure he believes will give activists greater visibility and protection. In November 2009, Pacifique received warnings of an alleged plot to assassinate him. Pacifique continues to routinely receive anonymous phone threats and has reported being under surveillance.

Azimjon Askarov, a Kyrgyz citizen, born in 1951, is currently in prison. He is of Uzbek ethnic origin, and graduated from the arts college in Tashkent.  Azimjon is the director of AIR, a human rights organization in southern Kyrgyzstan. In June 2010 he documented violence and looting in Bazar Kurgan following the clashes in Osh between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks. Azimjon was arrested on 15 June, questioned about his work, and then accused of “provocation” leading to the killing of a police officer. On 15 September 2010, the Bazar Kurgan District Court sentenced Azimjon to life in prison after a trial marred by allegations of torture.

Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia is a Nicaraguan citizen born in 1939, co-founder and President of the Nicaraguan Centre of Human Rights. She was the first woman to be appointed judge, and subsequently Vice President of the Supreme Court of Justice, and President of the National Human Rights Commission. She has created a national network of human rights promoters with local committees in nearly every municipality. With the “Strategic Group for the Legalization of Therapeutic Abortion”, since 2006 Vilma has led a campaign against a new law criminalizing therapeutic abortion. At the Permanent Tribunal of the People (an alternative court), she presided over hearings in 2008 that examined charges against transnational companies.

The International Jury will meet at the invitation of the Ville de Genève on 2 May to select the Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award for this year, and on 3 May the name will be announced at a press conference in Geneva. The Award will be presented to the winner on 13 October during the annual ceremony jointly organised by the Martin Ennals Foundation and the Ville de Genève.