IBA Human Rights Award

IBA Human Rights Award

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Each year the IBA presents an award to an outstanding lawyer in the world of human rights law.

Application details

Each year, the IBA presents an award to an outstanding lawyer in the world of human rights law.

Established in 1947, the International Bar Association (IBA) is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. The IBA influences the development of international law and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world. It has a membership of over more than 80,000 individual lawyers and 195 bar associations and law societies spanning all continents. Grouped into two divisions – the Legal Practice Division (LPD) and the Public and Professional Interest Division (PPID) – the IBA covers all practice areas and professional interests, providing members with access to leading experts and up-to-date information.

The IBA has always been dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights and the independence of the legal profession under a just rule of law. The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) was established in 1995 under the honorary presidency of Nelson Mandela. The IBAHRI is an independent entity within the Public and Professional Interest Division (PPID) of the IBA. The Section on Public and Professional Interest (SPPI) sits within the PPID and within that entity, there is also a Human Rights Committee.

The award will be made to a legal practitioner (whether in private practice, public interest, employment as a legal adviser, academia, bar leadership or other regulation of the profession) who, through personal endeavour in the course of such practice, is deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of all, or any group of, people, particularly with respect to their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law.

LexisNexis is honoured to sponsor the IBA Human Rights Award and hopes the winner will accept the Award in person during the IBA’s Annual Conference. LexisNexis sponsorship provides a contribution of $5,000 USD to their attendance.

Nominations for the IBA Human Rights Award has now closed. Shortlisted candidates will be notified shortly.
Please check this page for updates on 2017 winner and information on the 2018 award coming soon.

Shortlisted candidates 2017

Ramazan Demir

Ramazan Demir is a Turkish human rights lawyer, who has in his young career made an outstanding contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of all, and of the Kurdish people in Turkey in particular. Since 2009, Ramazan has continued to represent victims, journalists, and lawyers in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. Unfortunately, due to his valuable human rights work, Ramazan has faced serious personal consequences as criminal charges have been brought against him twice. The second time, in April 2016, Ramazan has been charged with terrorist related activities, because of his work for TUAD (an association for relatives of prisoners in Southeast Turkey). Furthermore, the case-file against him clearly shows that his activities as a human rights lawyer and his relationship with the international human rights community were used as grounds for the accusations against him. Despite the fact that the trial is still on-going, Ramazan took up his work for victims of human rights violations again and continues working for them up until today. The next hearing will be on 13 September 2017. Members of the judging panel noted that in terms of Ramazan’s efforts in the protection and advancement of Human Rights, he has made “significant personal endeavours” and in terms of the international impact and sustainability, Ramazan has made “a high impact on defence work in extremely challenging and threatening circumstances”. Lawyers for Lawyers is the organisation that nominated Ramazan, because they believe he is “a prominent and fearless defender of the rule of law and human rights.”


U Ko Ni

U Ko Ni was an activist, lawyer, author and academic. He worked tirelessly against the military dominance in Myanmar, contributing to the repeal of certain controversial laws and vigorously advocating for the amending of the military drafted 2008 Constitution. The 2008 Constitution reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military, empowers the military to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs, and allows the military to dissolve the government during a national emergency. In private conversations, U Ko Ni was frank about the need to reform the 2008 Constitution in order to tackle Myanmar’s most serious problems and to strengthen the rule of law. U Ko Ni also became increasingly concerned about the myriad of ways in which Muslims are marginalised and discriminated in Myanmar and was eager to find ways to make a difference, notably through discussing hate speech and hate crimes in Myanmar and potential solutions. Members of the judging panel noted that he was a “significant advocate for protection of minorities in Myanmar” and had an “outstanding track record.” U Ko Ni was assassinated on 29 January 2017, several INGOs and others condemned the assassination. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), along with the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada in their joint statement described U Ko Ni as somebody “who strongly advocated against religious discrimination and for inter-communal peace”, and called for “a prompt, impartial and effective investigation capable of identifying all those responsible and holding them accountable in a fair trial.”


Xie Yang

After an attempt to visit Chen Guangcheng, a laywer who was put under house arrest in Shandong province, which ended in a shocking and violent interception, Xie Yang, at the age of 38, made the decision to become a human rights lawyer. From then on, until his arrest in July 2015, Xie Yang represented dozens of human rights cases, confronted China’s human rights abuses and dictatorial ills, and spoke out fearlessly on China’s social media for his belief in democracy and universal human rights. Xie Yang was arrested during China’s ongoing crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists in July 2015, and then was subjected to 6 months of secret detention during which time he was cruelly tortured. Last November, 17 months after his arrest, Xie Yang was finally allowed to see his own lawyers where he requested that a thorough description of the torture he had suffered should be published to expose the widespread use of torture in China. The torture revelations marked a turning point, as the international outcry against torture made it impossible for China to continue its planned trials and sentences. The government signalled that it would release Xie Yang in “due time,” while since late February, Xie Yang’s lawyers have been prevented from meeting him. On May 8, Xie Yang was tried, and in the court and on camera he admitted guilty and denied torture. He was released on that day, but except for a couple of appearances in the company of police, he has been disappeared and his wife and relatives have not been able to contact him. Members of the judging panel noted Xie Yang had given an “outstanding personal sacrifice and commitment to the causes of human rights.”


Previous Winners

Galina Arapova, Russia
Presented with the award for her unstinting effort to protect the right to freedom of expression and information in her home country of Russia.

Adilur Rahman Khan, Bangladesh
Presented with the Award for his tireless dedication to championing human rights in Bangladesh, campaigning against torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and violence against women and minority communities.

Abukar Hassan Ahmed, Somalia
Presented with the Award for his dedication to the fight for human rights and the rule of law in Somalia, speaking out against the brutal Siad Barre regime and defending people arrested for their political beliefs.

Abdolfattah Soltani, Iran
Presented with the Award for his courage and commitment to the rule of law and human rights in Iran, enduring long-term prison sentences, harassment, and intimidation for providing pro-bono legal counsel to those in need.

Ivan Velasquez Gomez, Colombia
Presented with the Award for his commitment to human rights and justice and his courage working on parliamentary transparency and organised crime.

Clive Stafford Smith, United Kingdom
Presented with the Award for his commitment to bringing legal rights to the most vulnerable and to those who cannot afford representation. In addition, for his work defending individuals on death row, ensuring due process and justice for those wrongly convicted.

George Bizos, South Africa
Presented with the Award for his outstanding contribution to human rights law in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, one of the many who nominated Mr Bizos said, ‘I know of no person more worthy for this honour’.