The U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Human Rights Awards: Michael Honigstein and Michael Ervin are the recipients of the Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award; and Azimjon Askarov of Kyrgyzstan and Foro Penal, a Venezuelan non-governmental organization, are the recipients of the Human Rights Defender Award.
The Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award honors U.S. Department of State employees who have implemented creative strategies to support human rights and democracy.
While serving at Embassy Colombo, Michael Honigstein and Michael Ervin combined advocacy and protection in the face of government threats with thoughtful bilateral and multilateral policy consideration. Their work was critical in defending human rights activists, opening space for dialogue for civil society, and identifying areas for constructive U.S. engagement.
The Human Rights Defender Award is given to individuals or non-governmental organizations that have shown exceptional valor and leadership in advocating for the protection of human rights and democracy.
Azimjon Askarov founded an organization to monitor police brutality in Kyrgyzstan and led several high profile investigations against law enforcement, uncovering abuse that resulted in prosecutions of officials. Askarov documented acts of death and destruction during the interethnic violence in June 2010, before being himself arrested on charges connected to those events. He was sentenced to life imprisonment following a trial and appeals process that was marred by serious procedural irregularities and allegations of mistreatment during detention and coerced testimony. From prison, Mr. Askarov continues to unite people of all backgrounds and urge the government of Kyrgyzstan to work towards fostering ethnic reconciliation and creating an open society for all minorities.
Foro Penal, with its nationwide pro-bono network of over 200 lawyers and 1,000 human rights defenders, became an important source for independent information about the 2014 protests in Venezuela and those detained for their alleged involvement. Without Foro Penal’s timely work, the Venezuelan people, as well as local and international organizations and foreign governments, would have remained unaware of the extent and circumstances of the human rights abuses occurring during those protests. The organization continues to work towards improving the human rights situation in Venezuela despite high risk of government suppression and attacks on individual staff and volunteers.
The U.S. Department of State commends the winners for their vital efforts, and for their sustained commitment to advancing universal human rights.