United Nations, New York, December
December 9, 2002, five human rights activists--from China,
Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Sierra Leone--were
honored by the International League for Human Rights to
mark Defenders Day, dedicated to those who put their
principles and often their lives on the line to protect
of the five were in New York to receive the awards at
the United Nations on December 9. One of them, independent
journalist Sergei Duvanov, was at the time jailed
in Kazakhstan on charges of sexual assault against a
minor. He denied the charges and maintained that he
had been framed. The ILHR has expressed concern that
Duvanovs arrest might be yet another step in the
government-sanctioned campaign against a free press
in Kazakhstan. The journalists daughter, Dinissa,
received the award on his behalf.
other four award winners were Don Mullan, Irish
journalist and author of Bloody Sunday recently made
into a film, Eyewitness Bloody Sunday; Christiana
Thorpe of Sierra Leone, founder of an education
organization which empowers women and girls; Topchubek
Turgunaliev, a campaigner for democracy in Kyrgyzstan;
and Dr. Wan Yanhai, an HIV/AIDS activist recently
detained by Chinese authorities who had accused him
of disclosing state secrets about a tainted provincial
his greeting to the League at the awards ceremony, UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to " governments,
communities and individuals to recommit themselves to
the universal application of the rule of law."
The Secretary-General went on to say: " Let us
ensure that we never take this precious legacy for granted.
Let us nurture, develop, strengthen and defend it. I
thank the men and women being honored here for their
courageous contribution to that mission, and add the
hope that many more will follow (their) example."
Duvanov has been harassed regularly, and last August
he was beaten and a cross was carved into his chest
for his reporting on corruption involving Swiss bank
accounts allegedly belonging to President Nursultan
Nazarbayev. Duvanov edits the magazine of the Kazakhstan
International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
and writes for Internet websites of opposition political
parties. In late October he was arrested on sexual assault
charges, hours before he was to fly to the United States
to speak on press freedom and human rights in Kazakhstan.
acceptance speech by Duvanov's daughter, Dinissa)
Mullan, a human rights activist, journalist, writer,
lecturer and producer, was an eyewitness to the events
of Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, when British paratroops
fatally shot fourteen unarmed Catholics at a peaceful
demonstration in Derry. That day began the violent struggles
between Britain and sections of Ireland, north and south.
Mullan has worked to educate people about the impact
of Bloody Sunday and recently co-produced a film, Bloody
Sunday, based on his book. His publications include
The Dublin Monaghan Bombings and A Gift of Roses.
Thorpe of Sierra Leone, an activist for womens
and girls rights, founded and chairs the Forum
for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). It seeks to
empower women and girls to become involved in decisions
about rebuilding Sierra Leone following ten years of
armed struggle in the West African nation. The majority
of victims were women and girls, some of them as young
as six, who were abducted, raped and forced to become
sex slaves. She argues that education is crucial to
helping women realize their full human rights and their
political and social rights.
of acceptance speech)
Turgunaliev has been at the forefront of the movement
for democracy in Kyrgyzstan for ten years. He founded
the Institute for Human Rights and Liberties and helped
draft the constitution. Since 1996 he has been imprisoned
on several occasions for his political activism promoting
democracy and pluralism. Turgunaliev co-founded the
Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan and the Erkindik (Liberty)
Party and helped organize the Prisoners of Conscience
of acceptance speech)
Wan Yanhai, the most visible AIDS activist in China,
is the founder and coordinator of the non-governmental
Aids Action Project (AIZHI). He drew the ire of Chinese
authorities for disclosing a confidential report about
a scandal involving tainted blood at government-supported
collection centers in Henan Province in central China.
Hundreds of thousands of impoverished villagers selling
their blood are believed to have been infected with
HIV through faulty collection practices. He was arrested
in August on charges of disclosing state secrets in
connection with the blood supply report. Dr. Wan also
has fought discrimination against infected people.
Day, December 9 each year, marks the adoption by the
U.N. General Assembly in 1998 of the Defenders
Declaration, reinforcing the right of individuals and
groups to promote and protect the human rights of others.
It falls on the day before the December 10 anniversary
of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948.