Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2023 – Working to Free Political Prisoners in Venezuela
“Foro Penal is a central part of the Venezuelan civil society, which continues to be the greatest hope for a democratic Venezuela. For courageously putting their own safety at risk in defence of the freedom of others and access to justice for all, Foro Penal is awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2023,” says Civil Rights Defenders’ Board of Directors in its motivation for the award. (Full motivation below.)
Working pro bono for human rights
The human rights situation in Venezuela has deteriorated significantly since Hugo Chavez became president over 20 years ago and has further worsened under the leadership of Nicolás Maduro, with arbitrary arrests, systematic torture, and attacks against dissidents. Freedom of the press, expression, assembly, and association have all been severely curtailed, and human rights defenders are subjected to constant harassment. Currently, the country has more than 250 political prisoners.
Foro Penal was established in 2002 and has since become the first line of defence in the battle for human rights in Venezuela. With over 400 lawyers and 6,000 volunteers located across the country, they work tirelessly to help people who have been imprisoned on arbitrary or political grounds.
The lawyers at Foro Penal work completely pro-bono. Together, they have helped over 12,000 victims of political repression. In many cases, the organisation has become the main obstacle to repressive measures by the Venezuelan government.
Important work for International Criminal Court
Foro Penal’s work has drawn international attention to human rights violations in Venezuela. It is the only country in the world to be the subject of an open investigation by the International Criminal Court for serious crimes against humanity. Foro Penal has played a vital role in this.
As Foro Penal role in the fight for democracy and human rights in Venezuela increases, so does the pressure on the organisation. Many of its leaders have been forced to leave the country due to criminalisation and intimidation. Others have been subjected to economic and political pressure, and some have even been imprisoned.
Comments on the Award
“We are very proud and happy to receive this award. The recognition of our work means a lot for the whole organisation – for me, our lawyers, and our 6,000 volunteers. But it also means international attention. For us, that becomes protection. With the attention from the rest of the world, we are not safe from persecution, but it does make it more difficult for others to target us without anyone reacting,” says Alfredo Romero, President of Foro Penal.
“The Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award goes to all the thousands of people in Foro Penal who, despite the great risks, continue to work for democracy and human rights in Venezuela. They are taking on a regime that will stop at nothing to stay in power. And they do it one court case at a time. One human life at a time. So far, they have helped over 12,000 people, and I am convinced they will have played a crucial role in a future democratic Venezuela,” says Hanna Gerdes, Chair of the Board at Civil Right Defenders.
About the Award
The Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award is an award for outstanding work in the defence of civil and political rights. It is awarded every year by Civil Rights Defenders. With the award, we recognise a prominent human rights defender who, despite the risk to their own safety, continues the struggle for civil and political rights. The award highlights the situation of human rights defenders at risk. It enhances their human rights work by providing international recognition and support to the award recipient.
If you would like to know more or book an interview, please contact our press contact at email@example.com or call +46 (0)76 576 27 62.
- The Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award has been presented annually since 2013. Read more about with the award here.
- The prize has been awarded to human rights defenders from Russia, Turkey, and Burma, among others. Read about all the award recipients here.
- Visit Foro Penal’s web page here.
The full motivation for the award
The human rights organisation Foro Penal is the first line of defence against arbitrary detentions in Venezuela. Their network of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of lawyers in every region of the country provides invaluable support to human rights defenders, student activists, and opposition politicians who are politically persecuted by the repressive regime. With their database of political prisoners, they have successfully drawn international attention to human rights violations in Venezuela.
Foro Penal is a central part of the Venezuelan civil society, which continues to be the greatest hope for a democratic Venezuela. For courageously putting their own safety at risk in defence of the freedom of others and access to justice for all, Foro Penal is awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2023.
About Civil Rights Defenders
An Expert Organisation for Human Rights
Civil Rights Defenders is an international human rights organisation based in Sweden. We partner with and support human rights defenders who work in some of the world’s most repressive regions on four continents. Through advocacy, litigation, and public campaigns, we advance people’s rights globally. We also act as Sweden’s watchdog civil rights group.
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