December 10, 2022

By Kaiila McEntee, Program Assistant

On the evening of December 9th, UNA-NCA held our annual Human Rights Awards Ceremony. We were incredibly proud to honor four inspiring individuals, all committed to advancing and fighting for Human Rights.

This year’s honorees were: Harold Hongju Koh, recipient of the Louis B. Sohn Award; Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya, recipient of the Perdita Huston Award; Jason Mack, recipient of the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Human Rights Diplomacy Award; and Dr. Kelebogile Zvobgo, recipient of the 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 and UNA-NCA’s President, Paula Boland welcomed attendees and introduced video messages from UN Secretary General António Guterres, as well as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk. Secretary General Guterres spoke about human rights and their role in a post pandemic world. “Human Rights are the foundation for human dignity and the cornerstone of peaceful, inclusive, fair, and prosperous societies,” he noted. The High Commissioner for Human Rights went on to encourage those, "In 2023, I invite everyone, all over the world, to take up the torch for human rights and use these rights to forge a common future of dignity, freedom, and justice for all." 

Following the videos, Dean Claudio Grossman of American University Washington College of Law introduced the first award of the evening, the Louis B. Sohn Award, which was presented to Professor Harold Hongju Koh. Professor Koh is a Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School. He is one of the country's leading experts in public and private international law, national security law, and human rights. Professor Koh served nearly four years as the 22nd Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State. 

Sohn Honoree Group PhotoAs Professor Koh accepted the award, he spoke on the beliefs " not just accept the injustices that are, but fight for the justice that should be."  He went on to include that "talk is meaningless without action." 

Presenting the evening’s second award, Sarah Craven introduced the Perdita Huston Award that was presented to Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya. Dr. Ntaiya is a world-renowned educator and advocate for girls' health and human rights. She has dedicated her life to creating lasting change both in rural communities in Kenya and across Africa. Dr. Ntaiya founded Kakenya’s Dream in 2008 to educate girls, end harmful traditional practices including FGM and child marriage, and transform rural communities. In closing she states that she is accepting the award not on behalf of her, but on behalf of the girls of Kakenya's Dream.Kakenya with Sarah Craven

Following Dr. Ntaiya’s acceptance was the inspiring story of Benita Besa's Refugee Journey. As a senior at Wilde Lake High School, Besa spoke on her resiliency and ability to overcome the inherent challenges of being a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

At the close of Besa’s story, Ambassador (ret.) Keith M. Harper introduced the next award, the F. Allen “Tex'' Harris award to Jason Mack. Mack is the Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy to Italy.  A career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, Mr. Mack most recently served as the Counselor for Economic and Social Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York.  Prior to that, he was the Acting U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.  Mack emphasized the importance of "standing up for what is right, even if it is not popular or easy." 

After the remarks by Mack, former students of the upcoming honoree, Thomas Liu and Nathan Liu introduced the final award of the evening. The  Emerging Human Rights Leader Award is given to a young professional who shows great dedication to human rights while still early in their career. This award was given Zvogbo Remarksto Dr. Kelebogile Zvobgo, who is an Assistant Professor of Government at The College of William & Mary, a faculty affiliate at the Global Research Institute, and founder and director of the International Justice Lab. In her acceptance remarks, Dr. Zvobgo quotes Eleanor Roosevelt, “Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life. Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far-off goals…”

The evening came to a close with UNA-NCA Human Rights and International Law Committee Chair, Leila Hanafi's closing remarks reiterating the importance of continuing to fight for human rights. 

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.

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