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Martin Ennals Award: recognizing the work of human rights defenders

Igor Kalyapin founded the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) in order to investigate reported human rights abuses in the Chechen Republic (Russian Federation). On 8 October 2013, Kalyapin, in his capacity as Founder and President, received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders on behalf of the group.

The Geneva-based Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders is granted annually to a person or organization with an exceptional record of fighting against human rights violations. Named after the late British human rights activist who became the first head of Amnesty International, the award of 20,000 Swiss Francs is intended to further work in the field of human rights.

“Through its investigations, the JMG has become one of the sources of information on alleged human rights abuses in the Chechen Republic (Russian Federation), revealing enforced disappearances, torture in custody, and extra-judicial executions, and thereby pressuring the authorities to address them,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay in her speech during the awards ceremony.

Working with a team of volunteer human rights lawyers, the Joint Mobile Group travels to the Chechen Republic (Russian Federation) on brief rotating shifts to investigate alleged abduction, torture, disappearances and killings. JMG, whose founder is the head of the NGO Committee Against Torture (CAT) in Nizhny Novgorod, uses this information to raise urgent human rights concerns with the authorities.

In his acceptance speech, Kalyapin paid tribute to the defenders from Egypt and Haiti, and thanked the victims of torture and the relatives of those who have disappeared. “I would like to thank the heroes: they took risks, they resisted, they did not let go, and they continued trusting us,” he said. “As long as they continue to trust us, we will continue to work in Chechnya whatever the price we have to pay.”

In June 2012, according to the reports, the Head of the Chechen Republic, Russian Federation, Ramzan Kadyrov, reportedly threatened three JMG lawyers and there have been several attempts by the authorities to open criminal proceedings against Kalyapin into alleged disclosure of secret information.  

“The 2013 Martin Ennals Award and prizes for Human Rights Defenders is a key event that shows the world’s solidarity, admiration and support for the defence and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Pillay said. “We applaud these women and men for their courage and dedication that so often puts at risk their very own physical safety and that of their loved ones.”

Award nominees also included Egyptian human rights activist Mona Seif, co-founder of No to Military Trials for Civilians Group, a grassroots initiative that is tirelessly working on putting an end to military trials for civilians. “With her creative use of social media to communicate and document violations of human rights, she represents a new generation of human rights defenders,” Pillay said.

Another nominee, Haitian human rights lawyer Mario Joseph has led the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port-au-Prince since 1996. He is known for his work on prominent human rights cases including the Raboteau Massacre trial and Duvalier trial. Mario works with a number of grassroots groups and international organizations inside and outside Haiti by providing legal support. “And his legacy, the BAI’s legal training programme, is developing a whole new generation of skilled, motivated human rights lawyers,” Pillay said.

Pillay acknowledged the nominees exceptional work in defending human rights in Egypt, Haiti, and the Russian Federation and the challenges and risks they take in their work. “You are bold, you are brave and your achievements are an inspiration to all of us,” she said.

14 October 2013
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