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Sudanese activist stranded on island wins human rights award

February 15 - 2019 GENEVA
Abdelaziz Muhamat (file photo)
Abdelaziz Muhamat (file photo)

A Sudanese activist has won the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate for human rights defenders. Abdelaziz Muhamat was selected by a jury of the world’s leading human rights organisations and was honoured during a ceremony in Geneva on Wednesday.

The Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders honours individuals who have shown outstanding commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, despite the risks involved. The jury of the Martin Ennals Award comprises of ten of the world’s leading human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, FIDH, Front Line Defenders, and Human Rights Watch.

This year's winner, Abdelaziz Muhamat, is not based in Sudan, however; he is a refugee and stranded on an island in Papua New Guinea. He spent four years in the Australian detention centre. He has won the international human rights prize for exposing “the very cruel asylum seeker policy of the Australian government”.

“This award sheds light on the very cruel refugee policy of the Australian Government. It also brings international attention to the dangers and ill-treatment faced by refugees all over the world, including in countries that claim they uphold the Refugee Convention,” Abdelaziz Muhamat declared.

Muhamat fled the war in Darfur. In October 2013, he was forcibly transferred to the island of Manus (Papua New Guinea), as part of Australia’s “offshore” refugee policy, when the boat he was on was intercepted by the authorities. More than five years on, he is still stranded on the island, like hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, and subject to deprivation, harassment, humiliation and violence.

“I will continue to fight until all of us are safe and free.” - Abdelaziz Muhamat

“This young man was only 20 when he first arrived on Manus island. Since then, he never stopped raising his voice for those who have been stripped of their most basic rights together with him. He showed extraordinary tenacity and courage, always resisting peacefully even after a police officer shot him in the leg,” explained Dick Oosting, Chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation. “The Australian Government must meet its international obligations and put an end to these inhumane practices.”

Australian immigration policy

Australia can refuse providing settlement to any asylum seeker who comes to Australia by boat without a visa and instead send them to Papua New Guinea for settlement there, if they are found to be legitimate refugees. The policy is named the 'Regional Resettlement Arrangement'. People end up in the immigration detention facility on Manus island.

Living conditions on Manus island have been denounced by human rights organisations. “Men are dying, notably for lack of appropriate medical care. Some of them, including children, committed suicide. We need safety, we need freedom, we need hope. Opposing this cruel system helps preserve my self-esteem and my human dignity,” Muhamat explained. “I will continue to fight until all of us are safe and free.”


Amnesty International reported in November 2018 that over the past year, the Australian government has halved the number of mental health staff available to the refugees and people seeking asylum it sends to the island. It has also terminated torture and trauma counselling services.

There is also little protection for refugees and people seeking asylum against threats of violence and many people fear leaving their housing or moving around alone, the report found.

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