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Speech by Madam Kyung-wha Kang, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 2012 Martin Ennals Award Ceremony for Human Rights Defenders

2 October 2012

Madam Micheline Calmy Rey, Chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation, Madam Sandrine Salerno, Vice-Maire of Geneva, Distinguished nominees,
Excellences, Fellow Human Rights Defenders,

On behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I am very pleased to be with you this evening to give the 2012 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. This day comes at the end of a long and arduous process, involving the dedicated efforts of the MEF staff, the jury, and the generous hospitality of the city of Geneva. And you then you invite the High Commissioner to join you to celebrate the wonderful outcome of your hard work and to present the award, and we are indeed greatly honoured to do so.

This annual event has become a very important and significant day in the calendar of OHCHR as well, for it honors the human rights defenders and civil society actors that OHCHR works closely with on the ground and at headquarters in Geneva. This year in particular, all three nominees are exceptional human rights defenders whom the Office has supported and worked with under difficult circumstance. Much has already been said and seen (through the video presentation) about the three nominees, and I would just like to add a few more comments regarding our efforts to support them.

Our first nominee, Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, is not with us today as she is serving the remainder of a 6-year sentence in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, and has been banned from her profession for 10 years on charges of “acting against national security”. But I am sure she is here with us in spirit, as we are with her in spirit in her prison cell. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has pressed for Nasrin's release many times with the Iranian authorities, both publicly and privately, as have the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and her case has been raised by the UN at the highest levels. We continue to hope that international recognition and support will strengthen the case for her release.

The second nominee, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights continues to courageously its work under particularly difficult circumstances in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Director of the Center, Mr. Nabeel Raja and co-founder Mr. Al Kawaja cannot be here today because they are in prison, as a consequence of the criminalization of their human rights activities. OHCHR engages and works closely with the human rights movements in Bahrain, including the Bahrain Center for Human rights. The cases of members of the Center have also been reflected in the recent Secretary-General’s report to the Human Rights Council on reprisals on persons who cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms. On 6 October, the High Commissioner called for the release of Naeel Rajab in a press release, while criticizing the harsh sentences against human rights defenders in Bahrain.

The third nominee, and the winner this year, is the Venerable Luon Sovath, who has used his voice as a Buddhist monk to fight against what he saw as injustice in his native land. The OHCHR Office in Cambodia has been monitoring the situation closely and advocating with authorities for a resolution. In speaking out on behalf of the poor, particularly those in the rural areas who are currently facing evictions and land-grabbing, the Venerable has taken great risks. Our Office has provided him with protection on a number of occasions: intervening with the authorities- both religious and civil - when his rights to freedom of movement or of expression have been curtailed. Today we celebrate the Venerable’s wisdom and unwavering determination, which has been a source of courage for many in Cambodia, and we hope that he will continue to inspire others through his advocacy and activism.

Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the Venerable Luon Sovath, On behalf of all of us at OHCHR, I congratulate you for your exemplary work in defence of human dignity and offer you our warmest words of admiration and encouragement. The world is a much better place because of you, and we are all humbled by you.


It is my pleasure now to give the two finalist certificate to two nominees, Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh nd the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Now, I am pleased to hand over the 2012 Martin Ennals Award to the Venerable Luon Sovath.