, Latin America & Caribbean

Martin Ennals Awards honour courageous human rights defenders from Mexico, China and Bangladesh

Three courageous activists have been recognised for their work to promote and protect human rights at great personal risk with the conferral of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award and Prizes at a ceremony in Geneva today.

(Geneva) – Three courageous activists have been recognised for their work to promote and protect human rights at great personal risk with the conferral of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award and Prizes at a ceremony in Geneva today.

The Martin Ennals Award was conferred on Alejandra Ancheita, a Mexican human rights defender and the Executive Director of ProDESC, whose work to expose and pursue accountability for corporate human rights violations, together with her work to promote and protect women’s rights and indigenous rights, has led to her being defamed, attacked and subject to digital hacking and surveillance. The Award was presented by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Martin Ennals Prizes were awarded to Adilur Rahman Kahn of Bangladesh, who has been detained for his work to document and pursue accountability for torture, ill-treatment and fatal attacks against protesters in the country, and posthumously to Cao Shunli of China, who was arbitrarily detained, ill-treated, denied access to adequate medical treatment and ultimately died in custody in connection with her efforts to hold China to account for its human rights obligations through the Universal Periodic Review.

The Martin Ennals Award is a unique honour which is conferred annually to a human rights defender who has demonstrated dedication and commitment in the face of great personal risk, with the laureate chosen by a jury comprising representatives of ten of the world’s leading human rights organisations, .

‘The conferral of the award to Alejandra Ancheita is a recognition of her pioneering and innovative work to hold transnational corporations to account for their adverse impacts on indigenous rights and on land and environment rights,’ said ISHR Director and Martin Ennals jury member Phil Lynch.

‘The Award should also prompt authorities to strengthen implementation of Mexico’s law on the protection of human rights defenders and to invest greater political and financial resources in ensuring that human rights defenders in the country can work in a safe environment, free from attacks and harassment from both State and non-State actors,’ Mr Lynch said.

A number of recent reports, prepared by both UN experts and non-governmental organisations, show that the situation for human rights defenders in Mexico is worsening, despite the passage of a law for their protection in 2012, with journalists and those who oppose major development projects identified as being at particular risk. In the vast majority of cases of attacks, there is a lack of investigation or accountability.

‘Cases of threats, attacks, trespass, harassment and surveillance against Alejandra Ancheita, ProDESC and other human rights defenders in Mexico must be investigated fully and promptly, with perpetrators held to account,’ Mr Lynch said.

The Award ceremony included a special tribute to Cao Shunli, who died on 14 March 2014, with a minute of sustained applause. This followed on from NGO efforts at the Human Rights Council in March to honour her with a minute of silence, a move that was blocked by the Chinese delegation, with support from Russia, Cuba and others. ISHR also understands that Chinese officials had lobbied Swiss and Ville de Geneve authorities not to allow the Martin Ennals Foundation to honour Cao Shunli.

‘China’s efforts to silence Cao Shunli paradoxically demonstrate the power and importance of her voice. Her calls for the Chinese government to combat corruption, respect basic democratic rights and uphold the rule of law will continue to reverberate, both in China and at the UN, until those calls are met,’ Mr Lynch said.

‘Around the world – from China, to Bangladesh, to Mexico – human rights defenders face threats, attacks and reprisals for their work. The work of these defenders is crucial to foster democracy, promote accountability and uphold the rule of law. It is for this very reason that anti-democratic, corrupt and repressive governments so frequently target and attack their work,’ said Mr Lynch.

‘ISHR calls on all governments to recognise, respect and protect human rights defenders and to provide a supportive and enabling environment for their important work,’ Mr Lynch said.

Further information about the Martin Ennals Awards, including biographical information, photographs and videos of the Award and Prize winners, is available at

The Martin Ennals Award Jury comprises representatives from the following leading international human rights organisations:

  • Amnesty International
  • EWDE Germany
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Human Rights First
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Commission of Jurists
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director of the International Service for Human Rights, on [email protected] or + 41 76 708 4738

Stay in the loop!

Would you like to be informed of future events, news, updates on our work, invitations and appeals? Please enter your email address below!