In memory of Sonia Pierre, human rights defender

The human rights community mourns the untimely passing of Sonia Pierre, a prominent human rights defender of African descent from the Dominican Republic, who founded and served as Director of the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA). Sonia passed away at the age of 48 from a heart attack on 4 December.

“The passing of Sonia is a terrible loss for the human rights community and I express my deepest condolences and sympathy to her family, friends and colleagues who accompanied and supported her dauntless struggle,” said the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang. “The road does not end here and the best way to pay tribute to Sonia is to continue the work she has undertaken for the most vulnerable and for those who suffer the most.”                                                                                                                                       

In her lifetime, Sonia achieved outstanding results in promoting women’s empowerment in the Haitian-Dominican community. She also spearheaded a campaign using public education and legal action to reform and regularize the Dominican Republic’s birth registration system, which denies the right to nationality and legal identity to children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic. She had been the target of hostility, death threats, and even endured arbitrary detention.                                                                                    

Sonia’s work was awarded with the 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and on that occasion, former United States Senator Edward Kennedy said: "With certitude, I can affirm that Sonia is one of the most selfless, courageous and compassionate human beings of my generation. Sonia is very near the top of my list of heroines." She also won Amnesty International's 2003 Human Rights Ginetta Sagan Fund Award and was honoured with the 2010 International Women of Courage Award by the US Department of State.

A few days before her death, Sonia attended the fourth session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues held in Geneva on 29-30 November 2011. She had met with staff at the UN Human Rights office working with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekkaggya, and the Americas section.

Carmen Rosa Villa, the Regional Representative for South America of the UN Human Rights Office, recently met with Sonia in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and praised her courage and the nobility of her work.

"I knew Sonia’s work and the context in which she operated was full of challenges and intimidations,” Villa said. “I hope that with the loss of this great campaigner of human rights we do not lose the voice of those fighting for the rights of women and the recognition of the nationality of Dominicans of Haitian descent.”

15 December 2011
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