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U.S. Recognizes Top Human Rights Defenders

Ales Byalyatski
Ales Byalyatski

Ales Byalyatski of Belarus and Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law share award.

The protection of fundamental human rights was a cornerstone in the establishment of the United States, and the protection and promotion of human rights continue to be a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy.

On May 24th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton submitted the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, as has every Secretary of State for the past four decades. The Reports, which cover 199 countries and territories, serve as a reference guide not only for U.S. government policymaking but also for other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, scholars, and journalists.

As another aspect of the U.S. effort to promote respect for human rights worldwide, the U.S. Department of State honors individuals or non-governmental organizations that show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression. On May 18th, the Department of State announced that Ales Byalyatski of Belarus and Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law would share the 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award.

Ales Byalyatski is the founder of the banned Vyasna human rights organization, which has monitored and reported on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's ongoing crackdown on dissent and political opponents. Last year, Mr. Byalyatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for tax-evasion, a charge which both the European Union and United States condemned as politically motivated.

The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law is a coalition of over 40 human rights organizations defending Uganda’s homosexual rights. The Coalition has successfully defended the rights of LGBT individuals in Ugandan courts and challenged widespread misperceptions and prejudices. It also opposes Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill of 2009 that seeks the death penalty for Ugandan homosexuals, as well as other policies and laws that are unfair to minority groups.

“We are supporting efforts around the world to give people a voice in their societies, a stake in their economies, and to support them as they determine for themselves the future of their own lives and the contributions they can make to the future of their countries,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We think this is the way, together, we can make human rights a human reality.”