GENEVA, February 18, 2020 – An international coalition of 25 human rights organizations will today award a prestigious international human rights prize to Biram Dah Abeid, a descendant of former slaves who has been called “the Nelson Mandela of Mauritania,” for dedicating his life to ending slavery in the country.

The award will be presented today in Geneva days before Mauritania, which has the highest rate of slavery in the world, takes the floor as the newest member of the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, at its 2020 session that opens in the same city on Monday.

As founder of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), Abeid has mobilized tens of thousands of Mauritanians to protest slavery and the government’s failure to apply anti-slavery laws. By staging demonstrations, sit-ins, hunger strikes, marches, and disseminating information at home and abroad, Abeid has pressured the government to hold slave owners accountable for their crimes and raise awareness about the possibility of a slave-free Mauritania.

In a bid to silence Abeid, the Mauritanian regime imprisoned him multiple times over the last decade. After being jailed in December 2010 he was imprisoned in 2012. He was jailed again in 2014 for over a year and a half, and most recently in 2018 for a period of five months. Despite facing harassment and imprisonment, Abeid has worked to strengthen the enforcement of Mauritanian laws forbidding slavery, as well as to improve the social integration and livelihood of former slaves and other members of the majority black-African population facing discrimination. 

In 2017, Abeid was listed by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most important people in the world.

Abeid will receive the 2020 Geneva Summit Courage Award at a ceremony today, where he will address UN diplomats, human rights activists, and journalists from around the world attending the 12th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.

Before an estimated crowd of 800 attendees, Abeid will turn a global spotlight on the plight of 500,000 slaves subject to abuse and discrimination in Mauritania.

“Over the past decade, my government has become renowned for its persecution, torture, and imprisonment of peaceful people whose only crime is fighting for equality and against discrimination,” said Abeid. “It is on their behalf, and in the spirit of their courage, that I am humbled and deeply grateful to receive this prestigious award.”

Abeid was chosen for his “fearless commitment to fighting slavery in Mauritania, defending hundreds of thousands of victims at the expense of his own freedom,” said Hillel Neuer, the executive director of United Nations Watch, a co-organizer of the conference together with Liberal International, Human Rights Foundation, and more than 20 other human rights groups.

Previous laureates of the Courage Award include former political prisoner and Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma, and Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza.

In addressing the 12th Geneva Summit today, Abeid joins other champions of human rights from around the world, including dissidents, activists, victims, and relatives of political prisoners from Iran, China, Pakistan, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela, who will be testifying on the human rights situation in their countries.

Today’s event takes place just days before the UN Human Rights Council’s main annual session, in order to place urgent situations on the world agenda. “It’s a focal point for dissidents worldwide,” said Neuer.

The global gathering is acclaimed as a one-stop opportunity to hear from and meet front-line human rights advocates, many of whom have personally suffered imprisonment and torture.

Subjects on the program this year include discrimination against women, China’s mass detention of Uyghurs, child marriage, religious intolerance, and the persecution of human rights defenders.

For program and schedule information, as well as videos of past speaker testimonies, visit www.genevasummit.org. The proceedings can be followed via live webcast on the same page.
For media inquiries and interview requests, please contact us at media@genevasummit.org