by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
The Switzerland-based Martin Ennals Foundation and the City of Geneva have announced that Haitian human rights lawyer Mario Joseph of the Port-au-Prince-based International Lawyers Office (BAI) is one of three finalists for the Martin Ennals Award.
Since 1993, the award is given annually by a jury of human rights organizations to “human rights defenders who have shown deep commitment and face great personal risk,” the foundation said in a press release. The aim of the award is to provide protection to the awardees through international recognition.
Mario Joseph, recognized by many as Haiti's most important human rights lawyer, has worked on some of the most important cases in Haiti, including the current case against the former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. His family received asylum in the United States in 2004, but he chose to return to Haiti. He has faced threats and harassment for much of his 20 years as a lawyer, although it has intensified in recent months. “This recognition from the Ennals Award shines a vital spotlight on my work, and on the work of everyone who is fighting for human rights in Haiti,” Joseph said. “That spotlight will make our work safer and more effective."
The other two finalists are Mona Seif in Egypt and the Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya.
Seif is a core founder of the "No to Military Trials for Civilians", a grassroots initiative. Since Feb. 25, 2011, Mona has brought together activists, lawyers, and victims' families to start a nationwide movement against military trials. As part of the recent crackdown on freedom of speech in Egypt, she has been charged along with other human rights activists.
Meanwhile, Igor Kalyapin started the Joint Mobile Group after the murder of several human rights activists working in Chechnya. To reduce risk, they send investigators on short missions to Chechnya to document human rights abuses. This information is then used to publicize these abuses and seek legal redress.
The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) will be presented on Oct. 8 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva. The award is made possible by a unique collaboration among ten of the world's leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, International Commission of Jurists, German Diakonie, International Service for Human Rights, and HURIDOCS.
The prize also includes 20,000 Swiss Francs which the foundation specifies is “to be used for further work in the field of human rights.”
Martin Ennals (1927 – 1991) was a British human rights activist who served as the Secretary-General of Amnesty International from 1968 to 1980.
The BAI’s Mario Joseph is a finalist for the world’s foremost human rights award.
Photo by Kim Ives/Haïti Liberté