Democracy Courage Tributes

[July 22, 2014]

A highlight of every Global Assembly, the Democracy Courage Tributes are awarded to groups and movements working in particularly difficult circumstances outside of the spotlight of world attention. By highlighting their accomplishments, the World Movement seeks not only to offer some richly deserved recognition, but also to build a strong sense of solidarity with fellow democrats around the world. Since the Second Assembly in 2000, twenty three organizations have been honored for their outstanding work and contributions to the cause of democracy and human rights at great personal risk.

The Tributes are presented at the John B. Hurford Memorial Dinner, named for John Boyce Hurford (1938-2000), an internationalist and philanthropist who played an important role in helping to conceptualize and bring into being the World Movement for Democracy. 

The Seventh Assembly Democracy Courage Tribute Recipients











From left to right: Steering Committee member Antoine Bernard (France); Veronica Ferrari (Peru), who accepted the Tribute for Advocates of Sexual Minorities Worldwide; Maryam Al-Khawaja (Bahrain), who accepted the Tribute on behalf of Bahraini Human Rights Defenders; Steering Committee member Carlos Ponce (Venezuela); Regis Iglesias (Cuba), who accepted the Tribute on behalf of the Pro-Democracy Movement in Cuba; and National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman (United States). Messrs. Bernard, Ponce and Gershman presented the Tributes to the recipients from Peru, Cuba, and Bahrain, respectively.

Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain

In February 2011, Bahrainis joined in mass protests against their country’s monarchic regime, demanding that state authorities respect human rights, institute democratic reform, and recognize the equality of all Bahraini citizens. The protests crossed sectarian lines and drew thousands into the streets, but were put down one month later when Bahrain invited armed forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to assist in quelling the mass uprising. Although the regime launched a commission of inquiry and promised restitution to victims of the violent crackdown, the commission has proved largely ineffective at best and disingenuous at worst. Prominent human rights defenders such as Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Abdul Jalil al-Singace remain in prison, while others, such as Nabil Rajab, Zaynab al-Khawaja, Maryam al-Khawaja, and Muhammad al-Masqati, are subject to constant harassment and intimidation. Nevertheless, these brave individuals remain at the vanguard of Bahrain’s democracy movement, calling for peaceful political dialogue, democratic reform, and reconciliation.

Advocates for the Rights of Sexual Minorities Worldwide

In the face of violence, discrimination, and other forms of harassment, advocates for the rights of sexual minorities worldwide have demonstrated courage, creativity, and perseverance in their struggle for LGBT rights and equal citizenship. Organizing one of the most important civil rights struggles in the world today, these advocates often face tremendous difficulties in advancing their agenda given that there is much less global consensus on the issue of sexual equality and privacy rights, as many people continue to argue that personal, private sexual identity is something the state, or a particular religious group, has a right to regulate or control. Yet advocates for the rights of sexual minorities continue to defend the rights of LGBT individuals and challenge conservative attitudes despite tremendous personal, professional, and physical risk of injury. Together they have worked to form a truly global, transnational network that transcends borders and traditional understandings in order to advance the rights of minority individuals in societies where the majority has denied the minority the same claims to equality and privacy.

Pro-Democracy Movement in Cuba

Despite tremendous repression of political dissent and a culture of fear in which ordinary people and independent-thinking Cubans are afraid to speak up, a wide spectrum of organizations and individuals located inside Cuba continue to advance democracy and human rights. Together comprising the pro-democracy movement in Cuba, these activists work at great personal risk to themselves. Pro-democracy activists are routinely imprisoned, detained, terminated from their jobs, and otherwise harassed, oftentimes before they even commit any one of the many crimes that make legal dissent nearly impossible. Under a “dangerousness” provision in Cuba’s penal code, the state is allowed to imprison individuals on suspicion that they might commit a crime in the future. In the past year, two great democracy activists, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá, died under strange circumstances. Yet Cuban advocates for change continue to take advantage of whatever space is afforded them however small, using new technologies to circumvent government censorship and finding innovative ways to collaborate on advocating about issues of citizen concern in order to appeal to ordinary citizens.