The Advocates for Human Rights will present nine awards to human rights leaders at the Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017 at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis. The Human Rights Awards Dinner is an annual event that honors those who dedicate time, energy, and passion to advance The Advocates’ mission of changing the world for good by implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.
Mark Hetfield will deliver the keynote address and receive the 2017 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. Minnesota House of Representatives Member Ilhan Omar will be honored with a Special Recognition Award; The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Rapid Response Team will also receive the Special Recognition Award. Genoveva Tisheva will receive the first-ever Human Rights Defender Award. In addition, Karam Law, Sarah Vander Zanden, Gerry Tyrrell, David Seng Chor, and Yorn Yan will each receive the Volunteer Awards.
Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award – Mark Hetfield
Mark Hetfield is a globally recognized leader in refugee rights. He is the president and CEO of HIAS. Founded in 1881, HIAS is the world’s oldest organization dedicated to refugees. Under Hetfield’s guidance and leadership, HIAS has expanded from an organization focused on Jewish immigrants to one that assists refugees worldwide, no matter whom or where they are. HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom. HIAS both protects and resettles refugees, all the while ensuring they are treated with the dignity they deserve. Guided by Jewish ethics and history, HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are. Hetfield has stated, “HIAS doesn’t help people because they are Jewish but because we are Jewish.”
Hetfield’s 27-year career has been largely spent in five different roles within HIAS. Between his roles at HIAS, he served as senior advisor on refugee issues at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he directed a congressionally-authorized study on asylum seekers in expedited removal. This study, published in 2005, is the most comprehensive study on expedited removal to date and is still widely used today. Hetfield and his team were recognized for their work with the Arthur C. Helton Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, presented by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He graduated cum laude with a juris doctor degree from Georgetown University, from which he also holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.
Special Recognition Award – Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar made national headlines when she was elected in 2016 as the Minnesota State Representative for District 60B, becoming the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States. She successfully campaigned on a platform with strong human rights themes, including: access to quality affordable education; criminal justice reform; a higher minimum wage; empowering women in politics; and promoting environmental sustainability.
Born in Somalia, Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in 1995. Omar spoke no English at first, but learned quickly. She was inspired to enter public service after translating for her grandfather at a community political meeting at the age of 14. After graduating from North Dakota State University, Omar has worked tirelessly for her community and the greater public good. In addition to representing District 60B, Omar is the Director of Policy Initiatives for Women Organizing Women, a nonprofit network dedicated to empowering all women, with an emphasis on first– and second-generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.
Special Recognition Award – MSP Airport Rapid Response Team
When President Donald Trump signed his executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, thousands of attorneys around the United States turned out to protect those being denied entry. Here in Minnesota, attorney Regina Jefferies signed up to help with the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday afternoon and by Sunday morning had messages from more than 150 lawyers willing to go to the airport. Among them were immigration attorney Kara Lynum and Robins Kaplan’s Summra Sharriff, and attorneys Melissa Staudinger, Alisha Tecli, Hayley Steptoe, Shannon Doty, Nichole Buehler, Tara Murphy, and Kevin Riach, who would become the spontaneous project’s team leads.
The team organized everything from attorneys providing direct assistance on the ground at MSP, a habeas team ready to file for anyone detained under the ban, to volunteer training and communications, and liaison with the Metropolitan Airport Commission. Within two weeks, the project grew to more than 300 attorneys and countless community members volunteering to do everything from language interpretation to bringing food to volunteers. Volunteers met every international flight to Minnesota for 6 weeks. Their work not only provided onsite help to anxious family members waiting for their loved ones to arrive. It sent an important message to federal officials that the people of this country will not sit idly by in the face of discrimination and intolerance. Their work embodies The Advocates’ mission to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.
Human Rights Defender Award – Genoveva Tisheva
Genoveva Tisheva will be presented with The Advocates’ inaugural Human Rights Defender Award. Tisheva is the executive director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF), a nongovernmental organization that promotes social equality and women’s human rights in Bulgaria through research, education, and advocacy programs.
Tisheva has been a leader in the international human rights movement for over twenty years. A pioneer in Bulgarian gender rights research, she has conducted research on privatization, women’s socio-economic rights, violence against women, the impact of privatization of goods and services on women, and trafficking of Romani women and children. Tisheva has been instrumental in pushing Bulgaria to the forefront as a leader for the region on law reform related to violence against women.
The relationship between The Advocates and Tisheva extends back to 1994. At the time, Tisheva was the president of the Bulgarian Women Lawyers Association and had begun the work to secure legal reform that would protect women victims of violence and hold perpetrators accountable. The Advocates had just recently published its first report on women’s human rights titled “Lifting the Last Curtain, a Report on Domestic Violence in Romania.” Tisheva approached The Advocates about conducting fact-finding and documenting domestic violence as a human rights violation in Bulgaria. The resulting report, “Domestic Violence in Bulgaria” published in 1996, served as a blueprint for action.
For her work on behalf of women and for social rights, Tisheva was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize as part of the Project “1000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize.” Tisheva holds a M.A. in Law from Bulgaria’s Sofia University and is a specialist in international human rights law and international comparative law.
Information and tickets to the Human Rights Awards Dinner are available here.