By Sasha Rose, Program Assistant
On the evening of December 8th, UNA-NCA held our annual Human Rights Award Ceremony. We were incredibly proud to honor four inspiring individuals and one organization, all committed to advancing and fighting for Human Rights.
This year’s honorees were: E. Tendayi Achiume, recipient of the Louis B. Sohn Award; Gayatri Patel, recipient of the Perdita Huston Award; Lynn Sicade, recipient of the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Human Rights Diplomacy Award; SMYAL, recipient of the Community Human Rights Award; and Ryan Kaminski, recipient of the inaugural Emerging Human Rights Leader Award.
Our celebration began with a brief opening slideshow highlighting each honoree and thanking our sponsors who generously supported this year’s event. At the end of the slideshow, Chair of the Board of Directors Jill Christianson welcomed attendees and introduced a video message from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Honorable Michelle Bachelet. The High Commissioner spoke about human rights and their role in a post pandemic world. “Everyone should have equal opportunities to pursue their dreams regardless of who they are or where they live,” she noted.
At the close of the video, Jill introduced the first award of the evening, the Louis B. Sohn Award, which was presented to Professor E. Tendayi Achiume. Professor Achiume teaches at UCLA Law School and works with the Human Rights Clinic, she is also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. She was presented the award by her former professor, James Silk.
As Professor Achiume accepted the award, she noted that it was an honor for her to receive it in the legacy of Louis B. Sohn and his work however, that her advocacy was not a singular effort but a product of teamwork.
Following the acceptance of the award by Professor Achiume, Christianson introduced the Perdita Huston Award that was presented to Gayatri Patel. Patel is the Vice President of External Affairs at the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the Vice Chair of Advocacy at UNA-NCA. The award was presented to her by Lyric Thompson, who is the Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women and a former board member at UNA-NCA. In accepting the award, Patel thanked her colleagues, friends, and family for supporting her life’s work in striving for gender equality. In closing she states, “I often wonder whether advocacy makes a difference in people's lives, but then I’m always reminded that people speaking up, and demanding justice and respect for human rights is what drives us all towards a better, brighter, and more equal future”
Following Patel’s acceptance was a wonderful performance of Debussy Pour le Piano, arranged and performed by concert pianist and UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Program Alum, Keren Yang.
At the close of Keren’s Performance Christianson returned to introduce the next award, the Community Human Rights Award and its recipient SMYAL. SMYAL is an organization based in DC that offers support and empowerment to LGBTQI+ youth in the DC area. The award was presented by the board chair of SMYAL, Rob Cogorno, and accepted by Executive Director, Sultan Shakir. In his acceptance remarks, Shakir talks about the importance of offering support to LGBTQI+ youth, especially during COVID as they navigate increased challenges relating to healthcare, housing, education, and community. He closes by recognizing the strength and resilience of the youth that SMYAL works with, noting that they are tomorrow's leaders.
After Shakir spoke, the F. Allen “Tex” Harris award was presented to Lynn Sicade. Sicade is the Director of the Office of Multilateral and Global Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State. The award was presented to her by Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School, Harold Koh. In her acceptance remarks, Sicade quotes Eleanor Roosevelt in saying,
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
After the remarks by Sicade, Christianson introduced the final award of the evening. The inaugural Emerging Human Rights Leader Award is given to a young professional who shows great dedication to human rights. This award was given to Ryan Kaminski, who is the LGBTQI+ Advisor in the Inclusive Development Hub at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The award was presented to Kaminski by Paula Boland, President of UNA-NCA. In his acceptance remarks, Ryan talked about his work with USAID and notes that there is still plenty of work to be done at home as well. He closed by saying “My challenge to everyone is to remember that this work, both for human rights and the SDGs, is ongoing and urgent, and that challenges before us require us all to think about emerging solutions, innovations, and ways to break bottlenecks like never before.”
The evening came to a close with UNA-NCA’s President, Paula Boland’s, closing remarks reiterating the importance of continuing to fight for human rights. Paula points out that the theme for this year’s Human Rights Award Celebration, was centered around equality. She notes the importance of equality within Human Rights and points to the 2030 agenda and its inclusion of achieving equal rights. “Equality, inclusion, and non-discrimination, in other words, a human rights-based approach to development, is the best way to reduce inequalities and resume our path to towards achieving the 2030 agenda and a better future for us all”
Special thank you to our generous sponsors, and the Human Rights Committee for making this evening possible. And a heartfelt congratulations to all of our inspiring honorees.