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Cambodia, El Salvador, Egypt Human Rights Defenders Are Martin Ennals Award Finalists

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Mannequins depicting torture victims are left by demonstrators protesting against former Salvadoran army General Jose Guillermo Garcia prior to Garcia's arrival, at El Salvador International Airport in San Luis Talpa, Jan. 8, 2016.

Ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have chosen three human rights defenders from Cambodia, El Salvador and Egypt as this year’s finalists for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award.

The three finalists were selected from a field of some 50 human rights defenders. Director of the Martin Ennals Foundation, Michael Khambatta, says the city of Geneva, which will host the award ceremony on October 10, provides project funding of $12,000 for each of the finalists.

“The prize money itself is 30,000 francs for the laureate and 10,000 for the finalists ,” said Khambatta. "The idea is not really to give a lot of money. The idea is really to give them credibility, recognition and hopefully protection through widespread publicity.”

Khambatta tells VOA each finalist is at serious risks from their respective governments and others who oppose the work they do to promote human rights. He says a group of five Human Rights Defenders from Cambodia called Free the 5-KH has been held in pre-trial detention for more than a year.

“Which seems to be in violation of any of the justifications that would, normally one would have for pre-trial detention… These are people who are being basically detained for their human rights work, and this is having a chilling effect on human rights defenders throughout Cambodia,” said Khambatta.

Khambatta says a second finalist, Karla Avelar, a transgender woman in El Salvador, has been imprisoned, attacked and nearly killed on several occasions for defending and promoting the human rights of LGBTI people.

He says the third finalist, Mohamed Zaree, a legal scholar from Egypt, has been subject to death threats for his work as director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. He says Zaree, despite the risks, continues to battle human rights violations, which have become worse following the Egyptian revolution in 2011.

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