Mexican activist Alejandra Ancheita was honored on Tuesday with the Martin Ennals human rights prize, which recognizes individuals whose work demonstrates “deep commitment” and places them at “great personal risk.”
The recipient of this year’s award is the founder and director of ProDESC, a Mexican non-governmental organization that works to defend and promote economic, social and cultural rights.
Its specific actions include providing protection to migrants and supporting the rights of indigenous communities whose traditional lands are being developed by transnational mining and energy companies.
The Web site of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders describes Ancheita as a “Mexican lawyer and activist who leads the fight for the rights of migrants, workers, and indigenous communities of her native country to dramatically raise their standard of living.” The chairwoman of the Martin Ennals Foundation, Swiss former President Micheline Calmy-Rey, said the selection of Ancheita serves to highlight the wide variety of threats that human rights defenders face.
The specific case of the Mexican activist, she said, shows that the collusion of “local governments and courts … with powerful economic interests has led to public defamation and physical attacks” against those who are merely working to defend the powerless.
Ancheita “is also one of the pioneers in seeking accountability for transnational companies in Mexican courts when local communities’ rights are not taken into account,” London-based Amnesty International said Tuesday in a statement.
In remarks to reporters, Ancheita said she hopes the recognition will raise public awareness about rising violence against indigenous communities and their advocates, adding that the problem has worsened over the past two years.
“The government is not providing an effective response to this problem nor the right conditions for (human rights) defenders to carry out their work,” she said.
ProDESC has recourse to the relatively new Federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in Mexico, but this has not significantly changed conditions for rights activists, according to Ancheita.
“We filed a complaint in November and the government still has not conducted a risk analysis, which we’re still waiting for … and this is just one example of what happens with the vast majority of organizations that are trying to use this mechanism,” she said.
One of the reasons Ancheita was chosen among numerous other rights defenders is that she and her organization have been threatened with violence and been the target of defamatory attacks.
She said that she and her associates – ProDESC has 17 employees – have received death threats and are followed when they travel inside Mexico and that their homes and offices are under surveillance by unidentified individuals.
“The aim of the award is to provide protection through international recognition,” organizers of the prize say on their Web site.
But the Mexican rights defender said “these types of awards never guarantee anyone’s safety. We’ll always be victims of attacks, at times openly and other times with more sophisticated methods.”
The award, conferred annually, carries a cash prize of $32,000 that is partially financed by Geneva’s city government.