2015 Human Rights First Award
Antisemitism is surging across Europe. Stoked by ascendant neo-fascist parties and violent extremists trying to lay claim to Islam, mounting hatred has led to an increase in antisemitic attacks and worries that the continent is becoming unsafe for Jews. We know from history that when antisemitism goes unchecked it leads to attacks on other vulnerable minorities and eventually to societal breakdown.
This year, we honor three young Europeans from diverse faith backgrounds who are challenging this scourge in their own communities. Their courageous and imaginative advocacy is inspiring solidarity and action to build a better future. Like us, they know that antisemitism is a threat not only to Jews, but to all who value democracy and human dignity.
Jane Braden-Golay is originally from Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and studied Religious Studies, Public Law and Education at the University of Zurich. She was elected vice president of the European Union of Jewish Students and served for four years in that position. Since January 2014, she has been the president of the organization and based in Brussels, Belgium. Her intercultural activism includes the international Muslim Jewish Conference and “Europe of Diasporas”, a project bringing together Jewish, Roma and Armenian activists. She will begin graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in the fall of 2015, working on educational methods for prevention of extremism.
Braden-Golay has worked ceaselessly as a young Jewish voice to raise awareness on antisemitism and empower activists to take action. She successfully pressed to include the perspectives of young Jewish leaders in high-level policy meetings, necessary for any discussion relating to the future of the community. She has focused on alliance building and intercultural solidarity, local grassroots projects, and confronting progressively extreme political forces in Europe. Speaking at the Council of Europe on the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Braden-Golay affirmed: “It is becoming increasingly clear that our responsibility in the presence of survivors and in honor of all the victims is more than simply to remember. It is to remember, understand, recognize, and act.”
Siavosh Derakhti, Malmo, Sweden
While he was still in high school, Siavosh Derakhti became concerned about intolerance towards Jews in his home town of Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city. In 2010, at age 19, he formed an organization, Young Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, to educate young people about the dangers of antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia, including traveling with youth to Auschwitz, and to speak out against desecration of Jewish sites and physical attacks on Jews, for which Malmo was developing a bad reputation. Siavosh, whose family is originally from Iran, wrote in a local newspaper: “Jews in Malmo have been subjected to everything from threats to harassment, and it is our duty as Swedish citizens of Malmo to react and stand up.” In September 2013, he met with President Obama in Stockholm, and he has since met with the U.S. Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, in Malmo.
Derakhti continues to organize, despite receiving threats for his work. His organization is now called Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia and leads through events like the Stockholm Ring of Peace. Some have labeled him a traitor and called for his death. Derakhti says: “Because I see Jews as my brothers and sisters, and I believe they should enjoy all the same freedoms as all Swedes . . . a freedom without hate. And all Swedes have to do something to bring about peace between Jews and Muslims, and if we want something done we have to do it ourselves. Jews must be able to live in this city as Jews, and I am trying to make this happen.”
After the fatal attack on the Krystalgade Synagogue in Copenhagen in February, activist Niddal El-Jabri, whose family is Palestinian, felt the need to reach out to the Jewish community in his home city to demonstrate support and solidarity. He came up with a plan to form a ring of peace. On March 14, a month after the attack, over a thousand Danes from diverse backgrounds—including the father of the volunteer security guard killed outside the synagogue, Denmark’s chief rabbi, and government ministers—formed a human chain to demonstrate unity and tolerance in the face of hateful violence. Niddal said: “This is a gesture of solidarity with and support for the Jewish community, which was traumatized by the attack at the synagogue, and a call for the creation of a society where all faiths and ethnicities can live together in peace and harmony. We are also saying that Danish Muslims see ourselves as part of Danish society and reject the path of violence and extremism.”
Niddal believes that peace between religious groups anywhere will help promote peace everywhere. He continues his public activism against bigotry and antisemitism in Denmark and the rest of Europe.
2015 Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment
HBO Documentary Films has consistently taken on some of the most important—and most challenging—human rights issues of our time. War and peace, interrogation and torture, hate crime and discrimination, the rights of LGBT people, freedom of speech, domestic violence, the revolutions of the Arab Spring—there is hardly a human rights issue that HBO Documentary Films has not tackled. This powerful programming is an essential part of our democracy: it not only educates, but also entertains and inspires action. Sheila Nevins, President of HBO Documentary Films, will accept the award.
Highlights from the 2014 Human Rights First Award Dinner
Elisa Massimino's Remarks
When war broke out in 2011 in southern Sudan, the aid organization Ryan Boyette worked for ordered its staff to evacuate. Boyette refused. Knowing what was coming and the lack of media in the region to witness it, he enlisted community members in the Nuba Mountains to form Nuba Reports, a network of both citizen and professional journalists. Nuba Reports illuminates the effects on civilians of Sudan’s under-reported conflicts, providing both Sudanese people and the outside world with credible and compelling reporting. It is the only media positioned to regularly confirm events happening on the ground in the Nuba Mountains, where its reporters have documented more than 1,900 government bombings targeting civilians.
Armed with nothing but video cameras, solar-powered laptops, and satellite phones, Boyette and the Nuba Reports team risk their lives to expose the government’s indiscriminate bombing campaigns. Nuba Reports produces short documentary videos about attacks on civilians and the growing famine that was exacerbated when aid groups were forced by the violence to evacuate the region.
Just four months before the war started, Boyette married Jazira, a Nuban woman from the region; they have a two-year-old son. Their home has been bombed; a government spy was shot outside a building where Boyette was sleeping.
The risks, Boyette says, are worth it. He believes in the power of information to bring about change, and the importance of recording atrocities so that communities can heal and the world cannot say they did not know.
Sidney Lumet Award: 12 Years a Slave
American popular culture has the power to move and educate millions of people—here at home, and around the world. Each year, the Sidney Lumet Award honors a work of popular culture that raises awareness about human rights and advances popular understanding of the most pressing political and social issues of our time.
This year, we honor the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave, for its powerful portrayal of the scourge of slavery and the unspeakable toll it took on the human spirit. The film is an important reminder of a painful part of our history as a nation. But it also reminds us as Americans of our historic obligation to confront modern-day slavery—known as human trafficking—a contemporary crime that claims an estimated 21 million victims a year worldwide. 12 Years a Slave is making a meaningful difference on this issue: the power of the film, and its reach, have motivated audiences to demand effective action to end modern-day slavery.