The following is a video of the event, which was originally broadcast live. Below are bief bios of the awardees:
1.L’Malouma Said (Mauritania)
L’Malouma Said was born into slavery in 1972 in the far south-eastern town of Boutilmitt in Mauritania. When she was 17 years old, she was a leading activist at her school for the emancipation of Haratines. Before becoming one of only four Haratine women elected as deputy (Member of Parliament) to the Mauritanian National Assembly in 2006 and again in 2013, she was the president of a cooperative of women traders.
She believes Mauritania’s prisoners suffer from a lack of social and educational opportunities, as well as poor safety and health conditions, leading to escape attempts and the spread of diseases among the prison population. Said has a long history of defending human rights and equality, as well as the fight against all forms of discrimination in Mauritania. She is a vocal leader on these issues within the Mauritanian parliament.
2.Godelieve Mukasarasi (Rwanda)
Godelieve Mukasarasi dedicated her life after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide to fighting for a culture of peace and non-violence in Rwanda, as well as promoting the rights of women and girls affected by sexual violence in conflict zones worldwide. Founder and coordinator of the organization Solidarité pour l’Épanouissement des Veuves et des Orphelins visant le Travail et l’Auto, Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA), Mukasarasi works with communities across Rwanda to reset human, social, and economic relations destroyed during the Genocide.
Mukasarasi received the John Humphrey Freedom Award by Law & Democracy (2004); the Outstanding Achievement Award for Rural Women’s Creativity Award from the World Women’s Summit Foundation in Geneva (1996); and, SEVOTA was honored with the Award for Human Rights for its contribution to the promotion of the rights of vulnerable women by Human Right International (2011).
3.Sirikan Charoensiri (Thailand)
In the immediate aftermath of Thailand’s May 2014 coup d’etat, lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri (known as June) co-founded Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a lawyers’ collective set up to provide pro bono legal services in human rights cases and to document human rights issues under the military government.
TLHR has represented hundreds of clients since the military coup, often as the only alternative for those facing politically-motivated charges. Because of the political sensitivity of the organization’s work, TLHR lawyers and staffers, and June in particular, have been subjected regularly to harassment, intimidation and criminal charges. As a consequence of her advocacy, June is currently facing three sets of criminal charges for her work as a lawyer, including a charge of sedition – the first for being a lawyer under the military government. Nevertheless, June continues undeterred in her work.
4.Dr. Feride Rushiti (Kosovo)
Dr. Feride Rushiti is founder and executive director of the Kosovo Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims. Through almost two decades of research and advocacy, Dr. Rushiti has secured access to healthcare and justice for civilian victims of Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war.
Dr. Rushiti also played a key role in developing Kosovo’s legal framework for the humane treatment of prisoners and other detainees, advocating successfully for independent monitoring of detention facilities.
5.Sister Maria Elena Berini (Italy)
Nominated by the U.S. Embassy in the Holy See, Sister Maria Elena Berini was born on December 9, 1944 in Sondrio, Italy. When she was 15, she dropped out of school to work in a textile factory to help her father support their family of six. There, she discovered firsthand the difficult working conditions for laborers, as well as a strong sense of worker solidarity.
She continued her work in rural “bush” schools until 2007, when her congregation sent her to the Central African Republic (CAR). Sister Maria Elena has been working at the Catholic mission in Bocaranga, CAR since then and lived through the war in 2013 and 2014. Most recently, in February and September 2017, the rebel movement “TROIS R” attacked Bocaranga. Thousands of internally displaced people fled their homes and sought shelter at Sister Maria Elena’s mission, where they were welcomed and given refuge.
6.Aliyah Khalaf Saleh (Iraq)
Aliyah Khalaf Saleh, known as Umm Qusay in Iraq, is 62 years old and was born in the Iraqi province of Salah al-Din, not far from Tikrit. Umm Qusay has become a national hero in Iraq despite early challenges such as not having had the opportunity to attend school and being married at the young age of 13.
In July 2015, Prime Minister Abadi presented her with Iraq’s Medal of the State. Four years on, Umm Qusay continues to receive tribal leaders, military officials and citizens who want to meet and embrace the Iraqi woman who serves as a beacon of hope for their country in the wake of its liberation from ISIS. She regularly cooks for soldiers and visits the wounded in hospitals. Umm Qusay is a vivid embodiment of the message of a common humanity. In her own words, “We are all created by God. We are all the same.”
7.Roya Sadat (Afghanistan)
Roya Sadat is a creative thinker who refuses to be silenced in the face of threats from conservative elements within Afghan society. Using cinema and television as platforms for advocacy, she is promoting positive change by telling the untold stories of Afghan women and girls.
Despite these and other challenges, she completed the film, which received international acclaim. In 2003, Sadat founded Roya Film House to tell compelling stories about Afghanistan. In more than 30 documentaries, films and television shows, Sadat has not shied away from depicting the brutal injustices of life for Afghan women. In 2013, she founded the Afghanistan International Women’s Film Festival to promote women filmmakers and the empowerment of Afghan women through art. Sadat’s most recent work, A Letter to the President, tells the story of a strong-willed woman who is sentenced to death after accidentally killing her abusive husband.
8.Aiman Umarova (Kazakhstan)
Aiman Umarova was born in a small town of the Zhambyl province in south Kazakhstan. Currently, Umarova specializes in particularly serious and grave crimes, related to the sexual abuse of women and children, as well as working with convicted individuals imprisoned for various political and human rights motives.
9.Aura Elena Farfan (Guatemala)
Aura Elena Farfan is a fearless advocate for the families of the forcibly disappeared during Guatemala’s civil war (1960-1996), a bloody conflict that led to the killing and forced disappearance of approximately 200,000 civilians. Farfan has been a human rights activist since her brother disappeared in 1984. She received death threats throughout the years for her work and was kidnapped by armed assailants in 2001.
In 2015, Time magazine named Farfan as one of its 100 Most Influential People. In 2017, she was prominently featured in Finding Oscar, an award-winning documentary produced by Steven Spielberg. Despite the recognition she has received, Farfan has worked quietly over the years and seldom appears in the spotlight. Farfan’s 33 years of dedicated work in the quest for justice for families of the forcibly disappeared has inspired a generation of young activists and shines a light on transitional justice efforts in Guatemala.
10.Dr. Julissa Villanueva (Honduras)
Dr. Julissa Villanueva serves as the director of the Honduran Attorney General’s Forensic Medicine Department, overseeing 650 forensic experts. She began her career as a forensic pathologist in 2002 and was named director of the department in 2013.
Dr. Villanueva’s courageous and inspirational efforts have improved the capacity of forensic medicine in Honduras, bolstered evidence used in violent crime cases (many of which are against women), and are essential to the fight against impunity in Honduras.