Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee activist who has been trapped on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for five years, has been awarded the 2019 Martin Ennals prizeexternal link in Geneva for his courage and commitment to refugee rights.
This is the first time the winner of the award has been a victim of violations due to practices of a “Western” democracy. It is also the first time the award goes to someone focused on refugee issues.
“This award sheds light on the very cruel refugee policy of the Australian Government. It also brings international attention to the dangers and ill-treatment faced by refugees all over the world, including in countries that claim they uphold the Refugee Convention”, he declared.
After fleeing the war in Darfur, Muhamet was forcibly transferred to the island of Manus, as part of Australia’s “offshore” refugee policy in October 2013. More than five years on, the 26-year-old is still stranded on the island with hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, and subject to deprivation, harassment, humiliation and violence.
“This young man was only 20 when he first arrived on Manus island. Since then, he never stopped raising his voice for those who have been stripped of their most basic rights together with him. He showed extraordinary tenacity and courage, always resisting peacefully even after a police officer shot him in the leg”, explained Dick Oosting, Chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation. “The Australian Government must meet its international obligations and put an end to these inhumane practices.”
He was among three finalists, selected last October by a jury of ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations. The other two are Marino Cordoba Berrio, a leader in the Afro-Colombian community who has been fighting for rights of marginalized groups, and Eren Keskin, a Turkish lawyer who was sentenced to twelve years in prison for supporting the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem.
The Martin Ennals Award is supported by, among others, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the City of Geneva. The award was presented to the laureate by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet on February 13. The winner received CHF30,000.