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Defending Defenders: League Honors Five Human Rights Activists On Defenders' Day at U.N.

United Nations, New York, December 9, 2002
United Nations, New York, December 9, 2002

On 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 basic freedoms.

Four 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 Duvanov’s arrest might be yet another step in the government-sanctioned campaign against a free press in Kazakhstan. The journalist’s daughter, Dinissa, received the award on his behalf.

The 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 blood supply.


Kofi Annan

In 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."


Sergei DuvanovSergei 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.
(text of acceptance speech by Duvanov's daughter, Dinissa)


Don MullanDon 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.
(text of acceptance speech)


Christiana ThorpeChristiana Thorpe of Sierra Leone, an activist for women’s 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.
(text of acceptance speech)


Topchubek TurgunalievTopchubek 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 Guild.
(text of acceptance speech)


Dr. Wan Yanhai Dr. 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.

Defenders’ 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.


International Agreements Protecting Defenders


GA resolution

UN Lawyers rules

COE standards

OSCE standards


Defending Cases



• Right to Counsel Violated
• Kulov Sentenced


• Threat of Criminal Charges
• Continued Harassment


• Letter to Sestanovich
• Request to Rehear Case


• Protesting Arifoglu's Charges
• Protest About Lawyers


League's Statements


Speech by Lung-chu Chen

International League for Human Rights