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2006 Human Rights Award

Date: 
October 15, 2006 - 6:00pm

Honoring Damas de Blanco from Cuba and Munir and Suciwati from Indonesia

Special Guests: Meredith Vieira, Sigourney Weaver, and Alberto J. Mora

Dinner Chairs Lewis B. Kaden, Vice Chairman & CAO, Citigroup Inc. Ellen O. Kaden, SVP, Law & Government Affairs, Campbell Soup Company

2006 Human Rights Award

Las Damas de Blanco

In the spring of 2003, the Cuban government arrested and summarily tried and sentenced 75 human rights activists, independent journalists and librarians to terms of up to 28 years in prison.

Following the arrests, the wives, daughters and relatives of those imprisoned formed las Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White) to advocate for the release of their loved ones. Las Damas de Blanco’s method of protest is entirely peaceful. Every Sunday, dressed in white, the women meet at mass in the Santa Rita church, and then walk down Fifth Avenue in Havana in silent protest of the unjust incarceration of their relatives and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Las Damas de Blanco have appealed directly to foreign governments and Cuban officials demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners. In the face of persistent threats, insults and attempts to silence them by the Cuban government, these courageous activists remain steadfast in their struggle for justice and human rights. Their work to promote human rights in Cuba has earned the recognition and respect of the international community. In October 2005, las Damas de Blanco were awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament.

The U.S. representative of las Damas de Blanco, Yolanda Huerga Cedeño, and her husband Manuel Vázquez Portal are accepting the award on behalf of las Damas de Blanco. Huerga Cedeño is a founder of the group. Vázquez Portal is an independent journalist who was imprisoned in the spring of 2003 but was conditionally released for medical reasons in 2004. Huerga Cedeño and Vázquez Portal now live in Miami where they continue their vigorous activism in defense of human rights and freedom in Cuba.

Munir and Suciwati

Munir, one of Indonesia’s foremost human rights defenders, was known for his fearless advocacy and careful human rights research during and after the authoritarian Soeharto regime. Munir died on September 7, 2004 while flying to the Netherlands to continue his studies in international law. He was 38 years old. An autopsy later found a massive dose of arsenic in his system.
The President of Indonesia created a special fact-finding team, which soon uncovered the apparent complicity of state airline employees. The trail stopped at the door of the State Intelligence Agency; the team’s mandate ended and the President never released its final report.

In December 2005, an off-duty pilot was sentenced to 14 years in prison for poisoning Munir’s in-flight meal; earlier this month, his murder conviction was overturned. The judge at his trial called for further investigation into senior intelligence officials, but there has been no follow-up.
Originally from East Java, Munir worked at the Legal Aid Foundation before founding the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in 1998. Kontras has been widely recognized for its work on the disappearance of pro-democracy activists and succeeding in locating some — but not all — of the missing activists alive.

Munir is survived by his wife, Suciwati, and two young children, Diva and Alif. Munir once said that Suciwati was the brave one in the family. Suciwati has worked tirelessly to bring Munir’s killers to justice – and has been threatened and harassed for her outspoken advocacy. In addition to campaigning on her husband’s case, Suciwati brings together victims of human rights abuses to work for justice on their own behalf.Munir set out to show Indonesians that they did not have to live in fear. He urged his fellow citizens to reject violence, and helped Indonesia navigate a tumultuous period through rigorous investigations. His work lives on through organizations he helped create in Indonesia and throughout the region, and in a generation of young activists he inspired to fight for justice.