Jailed Kashmiri rights activist Khurram Parvez has won the Martin Ennals Award, one of the world’s most prestigious human rights prizes, along with two other campaigners from Chad and Venezuela, with the jury hailing their “courage”.
The other two winners are Delphine Djiraibe, one of Chad’s first women lawyers; and Feliciano Reyna, a rights activist and advocate for access to health for marginalised LGBTQ people in Venezuela.
“The common denominator between the 2023 laureates … is their courage, passion, and determination to bring the voice of the voiceless to the international arena, despite the ongoing, sometimes life-threatening, challenges they endure,” prize jury chairman Hans Thoolen said in a statement on Thursday.
“We are particularly proud to honour these three exceptional laureates who have each dedicated over 30 years of their lives to building movements which brought about justice for victims or delivered medicines to the marginalised,” he said. “They have made human rights real for thousands of people in their communities.”
The award ceremony will take place in Geneva on February 16, the organisers said.
Parvez, the founder of the widely respected Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, likely will not be able to attend the ceremony, however. He has been detained by India since November 2021 under a stringent “terrorism” law that effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely.
According to the prize organisers, the 45-year-old was catapulted into non-violent activism at the age of 13, when he witnessed the shooting of his grandfather during a demonstration in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Last May, the influential US-based Time magazine named Parvez as one of the 100 most influential people of 2022.
‘Politically motivated charges’
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which both govern over parts of it, but which both claim it in its entirety. Most residents on the Indian side either want an independent state or merger with Pakistan.
An armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule began in Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s. To suppress the revolt, India deployed nearly half a million troops in the valley, making it one of the most militarised conflict zones in the world.
Global rights groups have accused the Indian forces of large-scale human rights abuses in the region, including killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, and the suppression of media and other fundamental rights.
Parvez, who is also the chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, has travelled to the most remote parts of Kashmir to collect and document stories of abuse.
“Despite continued attacks on his right to freedom of expression by the Indian government, being jailed in 2016 and losing a leg to landmines, Parvez relentlessly spoke the truth and was an inspiration,” the prize jury said, slamming his latest arrest on “politically motivated charges”.
The laureates will each receive 20,000 to 30,000 Swiss francs ($22,000-33,000).
The award is managed by the Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation. The prize honours individuals and organisations that have shown exceptional commitment to defending and promoting human rights, despite the risks involved. It raises their profile and gathers international support for their work.
The annual Martin Ennals Award, named after the first secretary-general of Amnesty International, was first given in 1994.
The jury comprises representatives from 10 leading human rights organisations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
The jury noted that 2023 winner Djiraibe, age 62, pioneered the human rights movement in Chad, and was a key figure in bringing former dictator Hissene Habre, who brutally ruled from 1982 to 1990, to justice.
As head of the Public Interest Law Center, she has accompanied people seeking justice for rights violations, with a growing focus on gender-based violence.
Prizewinner Reyna, 67, was an architect who, upon the death of his partner from AIDS in 1995, founded Accion Solidaria to provide medication and treatment to Venezuelans living with HIV and AIDS.
He later helped create the first national AIDS helpline, and has advocated more broadly for healthcare access for marginalised LGBTQ populations.