This year’s winner of the Freedom Defenders Award is Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Arnold Tsunga accepted the award from the U.S. Department of State on behalf of the non-governmental organization. As executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Mr. Tsunga has suffered police raids on his home, arrest, and death threats for his work in defending human rights in Zimbabwe.
For the last ten years, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has provided legal representation for pro-democracy activists who often are illegally arrested, detained, beaten, and tortured under the brutal government of President Robert Mugabe. Many of Mr. Tsunga's staff along with their family members have received death threats and have been arrested and assaulted. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has been helpful in maintaining international and regional pressure on the Mugabe government by filing challenges to government policies and actions in international and regional bodies as well as in local courts.
At the awards ceremony, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "In Zimbabwe civil society remains under siege amid political and economic crises caused by irresponsible policies of the regime":
"Over the past several months, authorities have engaged in an intensified campaign of repression, characterized by harassment and intimidation, arrests, and violent assaults against peaceful opposition activists, professionals, independent labor leaders, and other members of civil society. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has worked tirelessly and fearlessly to advance democratic principles."
The United States has responded by imposing additional sanctions against the worst perpetrators of the Mugabe government's brutality. Financial and travel sanctions will be imposed against specific individuals and companies who have been involved in human rights abuses.
The U.S. applauds the courageous work of human rights organizations like Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The U.S. will continue to support those who struggle to bring democracy and justice to Zimbabwe.