A new tool to champion human rights defenders

March 2, 2021

Pip Cook published on 2 March 2021 a piece in Geneva Solutions which is hard to ignore for me in view of my own participation in it: the Digest: “A new tool to champion human rights defenders“. [see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/02/digest-of-laureates-ready-this-blog-changes-orientation/]

From left to right: Neri Colmenares, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, Juwairiya Mohideen, Nemonte Nenquimo and Intisar Al-Amyal. (True Heroes Films)

A new online tool has been launched to champion human rights defenders and bring greater recognition to their work. Launched this month by True Heroes Films, a Geneva-based media organisation which uses digital storytelling to raise the profile of human rights defenders around the world, the Digest of Human Rights Awards includes over 2,800 winners of 220 prestigious awards.

The Digest, while raising awareness about the work of human rights defenders, also  aims to serve as a useful tool for both the media and the human rights world to go beyond the often fleeting publicity that surrounds award ceremonies and ensure their work is not forgotten.

Hans Thoolen, co-founder of True Heroes and the Martin Ennals Award, told Geneva Solutions that the idea for the digest came out of a research project he undertook in 2013 into the value of human rights awards.

Awards help bring greater recognition to a cause, boosting an individual’s profile and granting them greater protection, be it through prize money or the support of NGOs. However, many awards remain relatively unheard of and receive very little publicity, which Thoolen said is “absolutely crucial” to their value.

Journalists are incorporated into the broad human rights movement. Without publicity, human rights defenders would be working mostly for nothing,” said Thoolen. “They need public attention for their cause and what they are trying to change. Without it, nobody would know what they are doing.

In fact, the Digest reveals journalists make up the largest professional group of award recipients, with more than 400 laureates from the media. The database also provides images of the laureates and biographies of their life and work, as well as details of the awards themselves.

Human rights awards generally try to achieve three main objectives,” explained Thoolen. “One is recognition at a psychological level, which should not be underestimated. Many human rights defenders are not very popular in their own society, sometimes not even within their own family, so when they get recognition that can be a very important boost to their mental health.

The value of awards also lies in “concrete support”, be it in the form of prize money or training opportunities, or the chance to connect with others working in the same field. They also provide protection for the laureates, which is another reason publicity is essential – to make it known that the world is watching. Although this publicity can bring with it some risks, Thoolen explains that his long career working in the human rights world has shown him that these are outweighed by the benefits.

The feedback we get from lawyers is always the same: the [human rights defenders] have already taken enormous risks by going public. They are not afraid, and clearly the publicity helps them.

Showcasing the work of thousands of people from all different backgrounds, championing everything from women’s rights to freedom of speech, Thoolen also hopes the Digest will serve as a “hall of fame” for role models to inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.

Most people get into human rights work when they’re hit by something, but usually it’s not by reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Thoolen. “What inspires people is seeing and hearing a person: a human rights defender. They are the entry point into the much broader human rights movement.

The piece then gives some recent winners of prestigious human rights awards featured in the Digest:

Abdul Aziz Muhamat – Martin Ennals Award, 2019. 

Juwairiya Mohideen – The Front Line Defenders Award, 2020. 

Nemonte Nenquimo – Goldman Environment Award, 2020.

Mohammad Mosaed – International Press Freedom Awards and Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech, 2020. . 

Rugiati Turay – Theodor Haecker Prize, 2020. 

Intisar Al-Amyal – Per Anger Prize, 2020. 

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