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Human Rights Watch Honors Activists from Congo, Afghanistan and Russia

The international monitoring group Human Rights Watch has honored three activists for their defense of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Russia.

Human-rights lawyer Honore Musoko brought public attention to civilian massacres and torture committed by armed rebel groups in the Ituri province of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo two-years ago during a Voice of America interview. He was subsequently arrested. After being freed he continued to advocate justice for the victims of the violence that has ravaged the region for the past five years, killing 60-thousand people according to U.N. estimates.

Mr. Musoko was forced into exile, and now lives in Holland.

He says it is not easy to be far from the people he is trying to assist, but he is continuing his advocacy work from abroad, helping defend people who have been falsely imprisoned and pressing the government to end the torture and killing of innocent civilians.

Another human-rights activist whose life was threatened as a result of his work is Afghan Habib Rahiab, who documented abuses by Afghan warlords as well as incidents of mistreatment of Afghan prisoners by American soldiers.

After warlords threatened to kill Mr. Rahiab, he fled to Pakistan and was later granted asylum in the United States, where he is now studying at Harvard.

The third honoree is Natalia Zhukova, a Russan activist who heads a group called the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, which pressures the military to stop its tradition of hazing and abusing military recruits.

Human Rights Watch Associate Director Carroll Bogert says Ms. Zhukova's group has an unparalleled influence on Russian society.

"We wanted to work on the issue of what is called 'hazing' in English, 'dedovshchina' in Russian, which is really the torture of younger conscripts in the Russian military, because this is an issue with great popular resonance in Russian society," she noted. "Every Russian family that has a boy begins at the time practically of his birth to think about how they are going to get him out of the army so that he is not brutalized by the older conscripts. So to establish this as an important human rights issue, we hope, is going to help the issue of human rights in many aspects of Russian life."

The winners of Human Rights Watch's annual award were honored in New York City, and will now visit other cities in the United States, Canada and Europe to bring attention to their causes.