Honouring human rights defenders

Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights defender in the United Arab Emirates, was arrested in April 2011 on the charge of insulting UAE officials because he spoke against the government in his blog. Mansoor was later sentenced to three years in prison. After serving nearly eight months in jail, he was given a pardon and released in November of that year.

He lost his job as an engineer and received constant death threats. Mansoor’s passport has never been returned to him and he is banned from traveling.

In spite of all this, Mansoor continues to work full-time as a human rights defender fighting for freedom of expression and political and civil and political rights in the United Arab Emirates. He raises awareness on various issues ranging from arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and torture, to international standards for fair trials, and domestic laws that violate international law.

In recognition of his exceptional human rights work, Mansoor was presented with the 2015 Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award. The award, named after the late British lawyer who became the first head of the human rights organization Amnesty International, is given every year to a person who has proven to have an outstanding record of fighting against human rights violations.

Since Mansoor is restricted from travelling, he delivered his speech via Skype during the awards ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri presented the award to activist Mohamed Saqer Alzaabi who accepted it on his behalf.

Delivering his speech from his home in the UAE, Mansoor said he was deeply honoured to have won and apologized for not being able to attend the ceremony due to his travel ban. “All of this is happening because of nothing I have done wrong, but because of my activities in the field of human rights,” he said.

Mansoor also pointed out that it may seem strange that an activist from his country was presented with the award, since the United Arab Emirates is typically known for its enormous wealth, beautiful beaches and shopping malls. “I hope that by winning this award, it will show people we have deep human rights issues,” he said.

During the ceremony, Pansieri urged the UAE authorities to return his passport and to respect his right to freedom of movement, so Mansoor could continue his important human rights work without restrictions. “He is one of the few genuinely independent voices in the United Arab Emirates,” she said.

This year’s nominees also included Robert Sann Aung, a prominent human rights lawyer from Myanmar and Asmaou Diallo, from Guinea, who works with victims of torture and other human rights violations.

“These three men and women have braved great risk, and endured many trials, to pursue, for their communities, what in fact should be theirs by right,” Pansieri said. “And I believe that I speak for many of you here tonight and the human rights community when I say how inspired I have been by their struggle.”

Pansieri also stressed how human rights defenders are constantly being targeted, threatened, and silenced all over the world. “In the midst of all this, human rights defenders continue to stir our consciousness and rally society into action,” she said. “Frankly, they are the bravest amongst us.”

“This is the purpose of our gathering today. Not just to honour these defenders, but also as a way to protect them,” Pansieri said. “Today’s award sends a loud and clear message that the international community is proud of their voices, their work, their commitment, and that we will be constantly mindful of their wellbeing.”

8 October 2015

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