Martin Ennals Award 2017: and then there were three finalists

Mohamed Zaree (Egypt, photo), FreeThe5KH (Cambodia) and Karla Avelar (El Salvador) will compete for this prestigious award given to human rights defenders who have shown deep commitment and face great personal risk. The ICJ is member of the MEA Jury.

Selected by the International Human Rights Community (members of the jury are the ICJ, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, EWDE Germany, International Service for Human Rights and HURIDOCS), the final nominees for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) are known:

  • Mohamed Zaree is the Egypt Country Director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), responsible for CIHRS’s legal research, media outreach and national advocacy. CIHRS’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. Mohamed 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.
  • FreeThe5KH are five Human Rights Defenders who have been in pre-trial detention for almost one year. This is linked to their work with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). International bodies like the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and UN 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.
  • Karla Avelar, a transgender woman in El Salvador, grew up on the streets of San Salvador, suffering discrimination, violence, exploitation, and rape. She was imprisoned when she defended herself, and then regularly abused by fellow prisoners with the knowledge and even participation of the prison authorities. With three others, she founded COMCAVIS TRANS, which was created to represent, defend, and promote the human rights of LGBTI 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.

Mohammed Zaree said: “Our hopes were high following the Egyptian revolution in 2011; we don’t know how the situation has instead deteriorated to such an extent. Today, we are battling human rights violations that are worse than before 2011, and challenging the normalization and acceptance of these atrocities.”

“Killing almost 1000 citizens in few hours, arresting almost 40,000 others, innocents dying in Egyptian prisons; is not the norm and we will not allow it to become so. We human rights defenders are fighting these abuses at risk of indefinite imprisonment,” he added.

The main award of the human rights movement, and as such labelled as the Nobel Price for human rights, the Martin Ennals Award aims to protect human rights defenders through increased visibility.

The Award will be presented on 10 October 2017 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.


Olivier van Bogaert, Director Media & Communications, ICJ representative in the MEA Jury, t: +41 22 979 38 08 ; e: olivier.vanbogaert(a)

Michael Khambatta, Director, Martin Ennals Foundation, t: +41 79 474 8208 ; e: khambatta(a)

Background information

Egypt-MEA Finalists 2017 MZaree Bio-2017-ENG (Mohammed Zaree bio, in PDF)

Cambodia-MEA 2017 Finalists FreeThe5KH Bio-2017-ENG (FreeThe5KH backgrounder, in PDF)

Salvador-MEA 2017 Finalists KAvelar Bio-2017-ENG (Karla Avelar bio, in PDF)

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