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Home / Press Release / Human Rights First to present Poland’s Grupa Granica with 2022 William D. Zabel Human Rights Award
May 17, 2022

Human Rights First to present Poland’s Grupa Granica with 2022 William D. Zabel Human Rights Award

NEW YORK — Human Rights First today announced that it will present Grupa Granica with the William D. Zabel Human Rights Award in recognition of its commitment to human rights at the Poland-Belarus border.

The award, presented annually for more than three decades, acknowledges the work of courageous activists on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom and human rights.

“Grupa Granica are front-line human rights defenders working at a flashpoint for human rights and freedom of migration,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First. “We hope that Human Rights First’s presentation of the William D. Zabel Award provides additional recognition to the importance of their work and helps to stem this humanitarian and geopolitical crisis.”

Formed in response to the humanitarian crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border, Grupa Granica is an informal network of Polish NGOs, activists, and inhabitants of the border region that provides humanitarian, medical, and legal aid to migrants stranded in the forests there.  They monitor the situation on the ground, provide assistance to people searching for missing family members, document human rights violations and educate Polish society on the situation at the border.

Human Rights First has been working for many years with one of the members of the network, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, and our Senior Advisor Brian Dooley has been witnessing Grupa Granica’s work at the Polish-Belarusian border as recently as last month. 

“Our network was formed in August last year in response to the humanitarian crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border. It consists of local inhabitants, activists, NGO staff, doctors, lawyers, interpreters, psychologists, public figures and many others working hand in hand to save the lives of migrants stranded at the border," says Marta Górczyńska of Grupa Granica.  “This prestigious award sends a clear message to the public that despite the recent attempts by the Polish authorities, providing humanitarian aid and defending human rights must never be criminalized. We hope it will also make it more difficult for the international community to turn a blind eye to the violations at the border.”

The William D. Zabel Human Rights Award is presented each year to human rights leaders and organizations that have distinguished themselves for their work advancing rights, justice, and equality for those suffering persecution and violations of their rights. The 2022 award will be officially presented to Grupa Granica on June 8. 

Recent Zabel Award recipients include Karapatan, a Philippines-based alliance of human rights organizations; ALQST for Human Rights, which monitors and documents human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia; Miroslava Cerpas Hernández, who promotes the rights of migrants and refugees displaced by violence in Honduras; Friar Tomás González, who protects vulnerable migrants on the Mexican border; Yazidi human rights activists Khaleel Aldakhi and Ameena Saeed Hasan; European antisemitism activists Jane Braden-Golay, Siavosh Derakhti, and Niddal El-Jabri; Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who later went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; and human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng of China.