Human Rights Watch Acknowledges World’s Rights Fighter
Human Rights Desk
Human Rights Watch is acknowledging a number of women who risk their safety – and even their lives – in the name of human rights with The Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, our highest honor. These women come from Mexico, Iran, and Indonesia, and all of them work tirelessly to defend the vulnerable and to bring abusers to justice.
Sister Consuelo Morales
Sister Consuelo Morales has seen the number of people in Monterrey who are tortured, killed, or “disappeared” skyrocket in the four years since Mexico’s president unleashed the military to combat drug cartels.
Morales has taken the lead in demanding justice for the victims of this violence. Her human rights organization, Ciudadanos en Apoyo de Derechos Humanos (CADHAC), has been documenting human rights violations that would otherwise not be investigated, as the authorities often blame the victims, saying they must have been criminals themselves. Families ask her to help find their loved ones who have been “disappeared,” feeling they have nowhere else to turn.
Morales, a small nun with a resonant voice, visits dangerous prisons, overcrowded with gang members, and tracks down illegal detention centers where victims are held incommunicado. Although authorities tell her she’s entering at her own risk, she goes in anyway.
People are not dangerous, Morales says. Mostly, they’re afraid.
As a result of the role she has taken on, people rely on Morales to speak out about abuses by the military and to say what they would be afraid to say themselves.
Morales took her final vows to become a nun in 1992, and initially sought to work with indigenous communities. But soon she decided that the place she could have the greatest impact was her native Monterrey, which at the time had serious human rights problems but no local organization to help the victims.
She’s been running CADHAC there for 18 years, and has addressed a wide range of serious issues, from abuse in state-run orphanages to the forced displacement of people from their lands.
Anis Hidayah was literally going into labor with her second child when she answered her phone, suspecting it would be a migrant worker needing her help. She was right. The woman had recently returned to Indonesia and said she was being extorted before being allowed to return to her hometown.
“At first I thought I’d ignore the call, but I couldn’t,” Hidayah told the Jakarta Globe. Although the woman wanted to speak only to Hidayah, a leading advocate for Indonesia’s migrant domestic workers, she convinced the domestic worker to call one of her colleagues at the organization Hidayah co-founded, Migrant Care.
Millions of Indonesians work in foreign countries. In 2010, these workers sent their families more than US$7.1 billion in remittances.
More than half of Indonesians who seek jobs abroad are women who work as domestic workers in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Despite their important economic contributions and the valuable services they provide as nannies and housekeepers, they are typically excluded from labor laws abroad and face a wide range of abuse and exploitation.
Hidayah has made it her life’s work to protect these women. She documents and manages their abuse cases, and, together with Human Rights Watch, is calling for Indonesia to revise its migration law and to ratify a UN convention on migrant workers.
Sussan Tahmasebi returned to her native Iran in 1999 for what she thought was a quick trip to reconnect with her roots, but she ended up staying for nearly 10 years, helping develop civil society to defend women’s rights.
She helped to start one of the most influential and effective human rights campaigns the country had ever seen. The One Million Signatures Campaign is a petition with a simple premise: Iran’s parliament should pass or change laws to allow equal rights in marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance. Its members pledged to approach ordinary Iranians in public places and to ask their fellow citizens to sign in the name of gender equality.
Tahmasebi and her colleagues purposely designed the campaign both to operate within the law and to be carried out without centralized leadership – making it more capable of withstanding government crackdowns.
When she arrived in Iran, Tahmasebi found a highly educated and engaged female populace. Iranian women had lost some important legal rights after the 1979 revolution. But she said she found that they’d also gained wider access to education, healthcare, and birth control.
The One Million Signatures Campaign brings together women from multiple generations and from various backgrounds. Tahmasebi and her colleagues devised this broad, horizontal structure to ensure that a wide array of people could join as well as to withstanding government pressures.
25 Jul 2012 04:54:23 PM Wednesday