ERT Recognises Human Rights Defenders Who Combat Discrimination

London, Friday, 10 December 2010

Today is International Human Rights Day. The rights to equality and non-discrimination are central to the human rights system, and their protection has a positive impact on all other human rights. Consequently, today’s appeal by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to everyone to stand by human rights defenders who act to end discrimination is most welcome.

The work of human rights defenders most often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. These are individuals at the very forefront of human rights protection, who put their security and wellbeing at risk on a daily basis, in order to fight for the rights of vulnerable, excluded and discriminated against individuals and communities.

Countless individuals continue to benefit from the tireless work of human rights defenders across the world. The Equal Rights Trust honours all human rights defenders and highlights the work of three remarkable individuals with whom it works, who continue to fight against discrimination despite the constant threat to their security.


Asha el Karib

Asha el Karib is the Executive Director of the Sudanese Organisation for Research and Development (SORD), an organisation established in 2007 by a group of Sudanese activists to build the capacity of Sudanese civil society organizations (CSOs). Asha joined the Sudanese Women's Union (which has since been dismantled by the government) as a young woman, and undertook post-doctoral research on the role of women in agriculture and food security. Prior to establishing SORD, she joined a group of other activists to create the Gender Centre for Research and Training in 1997. SORD works to enhance the technical, organisational and institutional capacities of CSOs and to enable them to contribute to enhancing citizenship rights in Sudan.

In recent years, repeated crackdowns on human rights defenders have had a crippling effect on the ability of civil society to organise themselves and to monitor human rights violations in Sudan. In 2009, in the immediate aftermath of a decision by the Prosecutor of The International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an international arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, three national human rights organisations were closed down. Despite the difficulties facing civil society organisations in the country, SORD continues to operate in Sudan, challenging the government through advocacy for reform of discriminatory family laws and leading an awareness campaign on voter registration in advance of a referendum on independence for South Sudan in 2011, among other things.

The Equal Rights Trust and SORD work together on a joint project entitled “Empowering civil society in Sudan to combat discrimination”. The project aims to strengthen civil society's capacity to advocate for improved protection from discrimination, increase cooperation between CSOs on a common advocacy agenda and increase awareness of discrimination and the need for improved legislation.


David Kuria

David Kuria, the Chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) , is a human rights activist fighting against the discrimination and ill-treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons. GALCK – established in 2006 as an umbrella body for organisations working to protect and promote the rights of LGBTI persons – provides capacity-building functions and coordinates awareness raising and advocacy activities. As the most prominent voice of the LGBTI community in Kenya – where male homosexual conduct is illegal and widespread discrimination against sexual minorities is the norm – David and GALCK’s other staff face a range of personal difficulties and remain at risk of their activities being closed down or restricted by the government.

David was forced to quit his job as a university lecturer because of his homosexuality and has faced discrimination in a variety of other ways. David says that prejudice is so deeply engrained that he has even faced stigma when dealing with fellow human rights activists.

The Equal Rights Trust works with GALCK as part of its project “Empowering disadvantaged groups through combating discrimination and promoting equality”, which aims to enable Kenyan civil society organisations to become key players in building a comprehensive national anti-discrimination regime. ERT has also recently launched a project with GALCK looking at approaches to mainstreaming issues of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity within the human rights community. To read ERT’s interview with David Kuria, click here.


Wan Yan Hai

Wan Yan Hai is the founder and former director of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute (Aizhixing), the first organisation working on issues of AIDS and HIV in China, which was founded in 1994. Following his graduation from medical school, Wan began working on HIV/AIDS testing and prevention. He was responsible for the establishment of the first HIV/AIDS telephone hotline in China and for the first website providing comprehensive information on HIV/AIDS to Chinese people. In 2002, he was the recipient of the Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch. Aizhixing’s mission is to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission through community education and outreach; to fight discrimination and advocate for equal access to health and social services among marginalised communities; and to advocate for legal accountability and government transparency in order to build a more robust platform for human rights in China.

As the first and most prominent organisation working on HIV/AIDS in China, Aizhixing has regularly experienced government interference, including “investigations” by the local Taxation Bureau and the interruption of foreign donations when its bank refused to receive them on their behalf. In recent years, Wan has routinely faced denials of his rights and freedoms, censorship in the press, interruption during speeches, arbitrary detention and constant police monitoring outside his family home. Under increasing pressure from the Chinese authorities, Wan left China in April 2010 and is currently residing in the United States.

Aizhixing and The Equal Rights Trust have worked closely together since 2007. Wan was among the original signatories of ERT’s Declaration of Principles on Equality, having been involved in its drafting. To read Wan Yan Hai’s testimony provided to ERT after his departure from China, click here.