HLS Advocates for Human Rights and Harvard Human Rights Journal are proud to announce the 2023 recipient of the Global Advocacy Award, Mr. Issa Amro and two finalists, Ms. Indyra Mendoza and Mr. Alexander Kapshul. All three finalists were celebrated at the first annual Global Advocacy Award Banquet on April 23, 2023.
Issa Amro is a Hebron-based Palestinian human rights defender, who uses tactics of non-violence and civil disobedience to resist Israeli occupation and advocate for peace. After leading a successful campaign to reopen Palestine Polytechnic University after it was shuttered by the Israeli military, Mr. Amro co-founded Youth Against Settlements (YAS), an organization promoting non-violent resistance among Palestinian youth. For over ten years, YAS has organized an annual Open Shuhada Street campaign, calling for the reopening of Hebron’s main street and for the end of segregation in Hebron. The organization also documents human rights abuses committed by Israeli settlers and soldiers. In 2009, Mr. Amro established the “Shooting Back” camera project, in collaboration with B’Tselem to distribute cameras to Palestinian teenagers to record abuses. Finally, YAS created and maintains the first kindergarten for Palestinian children in Hebron’s H2 area. Mr. Amro promotes solidarity across lines of religion, often engaging Israelis and Jews from the diaspora in efforts to shine a spotlight on the moral failure of occupation.
Mr. Amro is an exemplar of courage, risking his freedom and his life for justice. Imprisoned by both Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces, he has earned credibility on all sides. Mr. Amro has faced countless assaults, beatings, death threats and arbitrary arrests at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers. In February 2023, Mr. Amro was brutally assaulted and thrown to the ground by an Israeli soldier, when Mr. Amro was giving an interview to a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from the New Yorker.
Despite the violence he has suffered, Mr. Amro remains committed to the principles of non-violence and is often called upon to dissuade Palestinian teenagers in crisis from pursuing suicide missions. He wrote in a 2015 interview in the Guardian:
Gandhi said, in effect, if you want to achieve liberation through violence you will achieve it quicker than through non-violence, but you should know that violence will then become a part of your society. The advantage of non-violent resistance is that it forces your institutions to be active and strong in the face of the occupation, which in effect helps us to build our state.
I am not your normal human rights campaigner because I am not allowed to be. You can’t divorce Palestinian human rights from our political rights. Our struggle is about occupation, future, history, homeland. Other human rights campaigners document issues, or try to change the situation without working on the ground. Here we live our reality, we experience directly the brutality. We will never give up.
HLS Advocates and the Harvard Human Rights Journal were honored to present Mr. Amro with the Global Advocacy Award on April 19, 2023.
Indyra Mendoza is a LGBTQ+ rights activist and human rights defender in Honduras. She is the founder of Red Lesbica Cattrachas, a leftist feminist lesbian collective and Honduras’ only organization dedicated to tracking anti-LGBTQ+ crimes and providing empirical, data-driven evidence for litigation in defense of the LGBTQ+ community. With statistics gathered through its Violent Death Observatory, which charts anti-LGBTQ+ violence in Honduras, Cattrachas won the case of Vicki Hernandez, a trans woman murdered during the country’s 2009 coup, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In a landmark ruling in June 2021, the Court found Honduras responsible for Vicki Hernandez’ death and ordered the state to enact measures to investigate and prevent violence against LGBTQ+ people. In May 2022, Honduras formally acknowledged responsibility and apologized for Ms. Hernandez’ murder. Indyra Mendoza was named one of Times’ 100 most influential people of 2021, and she is the recipient of Europe’s Human Rights Prize. When receiving the Global Advocacy Award, Ms. Mendoza spoke powerfully about how her experience of discrimination as a lesbian woman in Honduras shaped her commitment to human rights: “The moment I became an activist was the moment I realized I was lesbian.” Ms. Mendoza is a clear example of what human rights work is about: compassion, creative problem-solving, and dogged determination to fight for a cause, not because it is easy or popular, but because it is just.
Alexander Kapshul is a Belarusian lawyer and labor and human rights activist. He is a former Counsel for Naftan, a major state-owned oil refinery where he worked for 20 years. After the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus in August 2020, Mr. Kapshul helped to lead a peaceful strike movement at Naftan, later joining forces with activists from across the country to found “Rabochy Ruh,” an organization promoting peaceful strikes as a form of resistance to dictatorship in Belarus. Mr. Kapshul defended workers who were illegally fired for participating in strikes and demonstrations. The strikes and international sanctions led to the effective shuttering of Naftan. On February 17, 2023 Mr. Kapshul was convicted of “high treason” and “participating in an extremist organization” after a politically-motivated trial and was sentenced to 15 years in a maximum-security prison. On the day Mr. Kapshul decided to join the nationwide strike, he wrote:
“Considering my education as a lawyer, I am clear about and cannot passively stand by the lawlessness that has taken hold in the country at large and at Naftan, in particular. Like most Belarusians, starting in August 2020, I tried to defend my rights peacefully and within the bounds of the law. However, the numerous peaceful expressions of my will, multiple attempts at contacting the police and endless formal complaints launched with the State Prosecutor’s office, have not had any effect. The law is being perverted and is being applied not for the purpose of protecting the people as the sole source of power but to suppress it instead. . . . That is why today I am joining the nationwide strike action and declare my support for its demands. Justice is on our side.”
Mr. Kapshul’s work exemplifies a crucial link between labor organizing and human rights and demonstrates the power of ordinary people to defy injustice in Belarus and throughout the world. The Global Advocacy Award was accepted on Mr. Kapshul’s behalf by Dr. Vladislava Chalei, a Boston-based Belarusian scientist and human rights advocate.