The three finalists who will compete for this prestigious award given to human rights defenders having shown deep commitment and facing great personal risk are: Eren Keskin (Turkey), Marino Córdoba Berrio (Colombia) and Abdul Aziz Muhamat (Papua New Guinea/Australia). The ICJ is member of the MEA Jury.
The finalists were 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).
Nominees and laureates of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) are human rights defenders that have demonstrated a deep commitment to human rights, often working under threat of imprisonment, torture, or worse.
The international recognition provided by the Award, on top of raising their profile and their work, often provides significant protection.
The 2019 Martin Ennals Award will be presented on 13 February 2019 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva, which for many years has strongly supported the Award.
Eren Keskin (Turkey)
Eren Keskin (upper left corner of the picture) is a lawyer and human rights activist.
For more than thirty years, she has struggled for fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey, especially for the Kurds, women and the LGBTI+ community.
Within the context of the worsening human rights situation in Turkey, Keskin is once again at the centre of intimidation attempts.
As part of a solidarity campaign to support the Özgür Gündem newspaper, Keskin held the title of “editor-in-chief” of the newspaper from 2013 to 2016, when it was closed by the authorities.
On 30 March 2018, she was convicted and sentenced to 12.5 years in jail for having published articles deemed to have “degraded” the Turkish nation and “insulted” the Turkish president.
She is currently free while the case is appealed.
She said: “To defend human rights is not easy in our territory. I am being prosecuted with 143 charges for my solidarity with an opposition newspaper in the context of freedom of expression. International awards and solidarity have “protective” characteristics and reassure those of us in repressive societies. It also it gives us a morale boost and helps our motivation for the struggle. Thank you for not forgetting us. Your solidarity and protection mean so much.”
Marino Córdoba Berrio (Colombia)
A member of the Afro-Colombian ethnic group, Marino Córdoba Berrio (bottom left corner of the picture) led his community as they faced the loss of their land to powerful commercial interests, notably in logging and mining.
After successfully working towards the legal recognition of their community’s land rights, much of his community was driven out by force in 1996.
Constant threats and attacks drove him to seek asylum in the United States in 2002 where he built a network of supporters.
He returned to Colombia in 2012 and worked to ensure a role for ethnic communities in the peace agreement, notably as a member of “Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defense of Territorial Rights ” that provides input as the peace agreement is implemented.
He has regularly received death threats and is under constant armed guard.
He said: “We have historically been excluded politically, socially and economically, also affected by war, providing measures of overcoming is a primary responsibility of the State. I believe in the power of my mind and my hands as a determinant to do what is right, therefore the justice that is applied to my people is crucial for their survival. It is also in our hands to promote those changes so this effort involves exposing my own life.”
Abdul Aziz Muhamat (Papua New Guinea/Australia)
Abdul Aziz Muhamat (Aziz, on the right-hand side of the picture), from Sudan, is a compelling and tireless advocate for refugee rights.
Seeking asylum, he has been held in Australian immigration detention on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea since October 2013, when his boat was intercepted by the Australian authorities.
Aziz has seen friends die. He has been shot at by local police. He was also sent to a local prison for refusing to eat in protest at the cruelty and suffering being inflicted on others.
Aziz is one of the primary public voices among the men held on Manus Island. Despite the isolated location, he has exposed the harsh conditions there through podcasts and media interviews.
He has paid a price for this as he is seen as a “ring leader” by both the PNG and Australian authorities.
He stated: “My work to expose this cruel system helps preserve my self-respect and inherent human dignity. It helps me fight for the rights of every refugee around the universe, which I’ll do until my last breath. It is not always easy when living under conditions of fear and persecution. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery, courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state and I will do everything to keep going.”
Olivier van Bogaert, Director Media & Communications, ICJ representative in the MEA Jury, t: +41 22 979 38 08 ; e: olivier.vanbogaert(a)icj.org
Michael Khambatta, Director, Martin Ennals Foundation, t: +41 79 474 8208 ; e: khambatta(a)martinennalsaward.org
TUR-Eren Keskin_Bio-News-2018-ENG (Eren Keskin full bio in PDF)
COL-Marino Cordoba Bio-News-2018-ENG (Marino Córdoba Berrio full bio in PDF)
AUS-Abdul Aziz Muhamat Bio-News-2018-ENG (Abdul Aziz Muhamat full bio in PDF)NewsPress releases