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Human Rights Defenders Recognized

Laura Pollan, leader the Cuban dissident group Ladies in White, protests after the group's weekly march in Havana. (file)

"The leaders we honor today have shown by example how to uphold the basic freedoms that are under threat in so many parts the world."

The United States Department of State honored a Cuban organization that advocates on behalf of political prisoners and three individuals with major Human Rights Awards. "The leaders we honor today have shown by example how to uphold the basic freedoms that are under threat in so many parts the world," said State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, who presented the awards.

A little-known twentieth century American writer who went by the pseudonym Ambrose Redmoon once wrote that "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

Such is the case of this year's recipient of the Human Rights Defenders Award, which recognizes individuals or non-governmental organizations who show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression. The Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, of Cuba "distinguishes itself not only by the depth of its commitment to the release of political prisoners, but by the full measure of its bravery in defense of human rights in Cuba," said Under Secretary Burns:

"The Damas helped create the conditions that led to the release of the political prisoners arrested during the 'Black Spring' crackdown of 2003 . . . . We stand alongside the Damas de Blanco in calling for the release of all remaining political prisoners."

Ambassador Stephen Beecroft of the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan received the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award for his "clear vision, brilliant strategy, and tireless advocacy [that] have resulted in the country re-engaging across the board on a broad range of human rights issues, with progress on both individual cases and systemic reform."

Finally, the Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award was presented to Christian Marchant of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi for outstanding work to ensure that the bilateral Human Rights dialogue produces concrete results and to defend the rights of Vietnam’s dissidents, and to Holly Lindquist Thomas of the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent. She highlighted the country's child labor practices, and worked to support civil society and human rights activists in Uzbekistan.

In recognizing this year's Award winners, the United States also salutes the human rights defenders and civil society activists who work every day in every part of the world to turn the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into reality.