Human rights advocates get their moment to shine
Ron Merkel QC from Victoria has won the 2011 Human Rights Medal.
He was announced as the winner at the Commission’s annual Human Rights Awards in Sydney today.
And 19 year old Tshibanda Gracia Ngoy has won the Young People’s Human Rights Medal.
Commission President Catherine Branson QC congratulated the Medallists and all winners for their extraordinary efforts in protecting and promoting human rights in Australia.
“All winners today and indeed all finalists should be treasured by all of us for the often selfless way in which they try to make Australia an even fairer and more equal society than it already is,” Ms Branson said.
“For 40 years, Ron Merkel has devoted himself to access to justice for people who are marginalised and disadvantaged, having a long and outstanding commitment to the promotion and advancement of human rights as a legal practitioner.
“Ron Merkel takes on cases that many others would avoid and his advocacy spreads far and wide including defending the rights of prisoners to vote in elections and protecting the rights of Indigenous Australians not to be racially discriminated against.
“In addition to his extensive human rights advocacy, Ron has occupied a number of important positions, including Founding Trustee of the Koori Aboriginal Heritage Trust and President of the Victorian and Australian Councils of Civil Liberties.
“On behalf of the Commission and on behalf of all those who have had their rights protected or defended by his commitment and dedication, I extend my very sincere congratulations to Ron Merkel QC,” Ms Branson said.
Ms Branson also congratulated Tshibanda Gracia Ngoy for being awarded the Young People’s Human Rights Medal.
“Tshibanda Gracia strives to better the lives of people around her and, in particular, youth from refugee backgrounds,” Ms Branson said.
“She is a caseworker for refugee families, a radio co-host, a tutor for international students, a youth motivational speaker, and a member of the Illawarra Regional Advisory Council (IRAC), NSW Multicultural Youth Network (MYN), the Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families (SCARF).
“She is also active with the Uganda-based Voice of Hope International Ministries, advocating for those who have been silenced by poverty and injustice.
“The Commission is proud to be able to recognise this truly astonishing young woman and her commitment to human rights.”
The Medals were announced at a sold-out event in Sydney in celebration of International Human Rights Day which is celebrated on 10 December each year around the world.
Ms Branson delivered the 2011 Human Rights Day Oration and announced a major new Commission initiative to build understanding and respect for human rights in Australia.
“I am proud to be able to launch an innovative online initiative today, known as Something In Common, which aims for greater community engagement with human rights issues,” Ms Branson said.
“In order to respond to the desire for human rights facts, as part of our Something In Common project we have developed a microsite – Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.gov.au.
“Tell Me Something I Don't Know presents a series of human rights facts that are arresting and sometimes shocking,” she said.
“In addition, there are a number of engagement features where users have the opportunity to not only add their own stories to the site, but contribute to Australian film reviews that deal with human rights issues, respond to polls and commit to taking a number of online and offline actions.
“Something In Common seeks to build on these ideas to enable us to speak about human rights in ways that will inspire people to promote, defend and apply human rights in their daily lives through social media,” she said.
“It is impossible to refute the reach of social media and impossible to ignore it if human rights education and community engagement are to remain relevant.”
More than 200 entries were received for this year’s Awards with 40 finalists selected in 10 categories.
Winners in the other eight Award categories are:
Print and Online Media
Adele Horin, Fairfax Newspapers for – The sad truth behind closed doors, Fairfax newspapers.
Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, Allens Arthur Robinson, Debbie Mortimer SC and Richard Niall SC
Matt Moran and Hugh Riminton, Ten Network
Community Individual Award – Tony Fitzgerald Memorial Award
The late Lola Jane Edwards
Malu Sara Tragedy, SBS Radio
The Captioning Studio
Literature (Non-Fiction) Award
John Murphy, Suellen Murray, Jenny Chalmers, Sonia Martin & Greg Martson - Half a Citizen: Life on welfare in Australia
Community Organisation Award
Swags for Homeless
Details of all winners and finalists can be found at www.humanrights.gov.au/hr_awards/finalists.html