Mexican attorney receives top human rights defender award

Alejandra Ancheita, a human rights attorney from Mexico, has been living with threats against her life and her family’s life in recent years. And while the threats have been transformative, they have also been empowering.

“It is very difficult to deal with the fear, and it is very painful to understand that the violence is a reality,” she said. “But realizing that, however also helps me to continue finding ways to keep fighting and to maintain hope while building a process of justice.”

For more than 15 years Ancheita has worked with migrants, workers and indigenous communities across Mexico to protect their land and labour rights. As the founder and executive director of ProDESC, she and her staff have been subjected to surveillance, a defamation campaign in national media, an office break-in and threats against their lives.

In recognition of her efforts, she is the winner of the 2014 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award, named after the late British lawyer who became the first head of human rights organization Amnesty International, is granted annually to a person who has an exceptional record of fighting against human rights violations.

Ancheita said the award brought recognition of the value of ProDESC’s work advocating social, economic and cultural rights in Mexico.

Ancheita was presented the award by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. He said her story highlights not only her own work, but that of countless other human rights defenders who, often at great personal expense, stand up for the values of all of us.

“These defenders are people who know that they risk personal security, personal liberty, the ordinary comforts and conveniences of a pleasurable life – and even, perhaps, life itself,” he said. “And yet they choose to resist oppression; they stand up for the equality, freedom and dignity of all human beings – and do so peacefully.”

Zeid said the work of human rights defenders should inspire all of us.

14 October 2014

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