Remarks at the Human Rights Defenders Award Ceremony

Uzra Zeya
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
November 15, 2013

Thank you all for coming today and joining us as we honor Hanadi Zahlout and her tremendous advocacy work in Syria despite great personal cost.

The Human Rights Defenders Award is given annually to individuals or nongovernmental organizations that have shown exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression.

Hanadi Zahlout was the joint winner of the award this year with an Iraqi NGO, the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization. As Deputy Secretary Burns noted in his remarks at that ceremony earlier this year, “What [is] truly remarkable is that [these recipients] not only raise awareness about human rights problems – [they] propose solutions.”

As the crisis in Syria deepened, Hanadi has been an unrelenting champion for the women and children who have borne the brunt of regime repression, and she has bridged ethnic and religious divides to seek an inclusive, democratic future for all Syrians. Her work is particularly important as it highlights the often overlooked role of women and minorities in promoting peace and human rights, in Syria, but also more globally. By honoring leaders like Hanadi, the U.S. reaffirms its support of women’s critical role in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, as reflected in the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and UNSCR 1325.

I would like to thank everyone for coming today, and I especially would like to thank Hanadi for her willingness to engage publicly despite the hardships that her activism has presented. Her sacrifices and commitment remind all of us, both within the U.S. Government and outside of it, ofthe importance of standing up for civil society and universal human rights.

Today, in honoring Hanadi, we also recognize the human rights defenders and civil society activists who work hard every day, in every corner of the world, to transform the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into a global reality. It is my pleasure to now turn the floor to Deputy Secretary of State, Bill Burns.