The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brenda Bowser Soder
O -202/370-3323

Colombian Activist Granted Visa to Accept Prestigious Human Rights Award


Human Rights First today praised the U.S. government for granting Colombian activist Gabriel Gonzalez's visa request to enter the country next week to receive the organization's 2009 human rights award in New York. Gonzalez's request had languished in a bureaucratic limbo for four months, a delay that spurred media attention, Congressional inquiries, and other diplomatic advocacy efforts.

"We are thrilled that Gabriel will have the opportunity to come to the United States and receive this well-deserved honor. The State Department made the right call in granting Gabriel's visa, a decision that is a sensible extension of their longtime support in his case," noted Human Rights First's Andrew Hudson. "It is an honor to support Gabriel's important work and to enable him to provide firsthand information to policy makers in the U.S. about the arbitrary detention of Colombian activists."

Gonzalez is a groundbreaking student activist and regional coordinator of the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee in Colombia, where he has worked to promote access to justice for prisoners and victims of Colombia's conflict. Ironically, Gonzalez's advocacy led to his own arrest and detention on the false charge of being a guerilla leader. He was detained for more than a year, lived in exile to escape judicial harassment, and now faces seven more years in prison on trumped-up charges if his test-case appeal to Colombia's Supreme Court is unsuccessful. In 2007, the State Department included Gonzalez in its human rights country report citing his baseless prosecution as being emblematic of "the government's attempts to harass human rights defenders."

Gonzalez was chosen by Human Rights First for the 2009 Human Rights Award in recognition of his courageous defense of human rights in Colombia. He will be honored at an event hosted by legendary newsman Tom Brokaw on Thursday, October 22 at Chelsea Piers in New York City.

Human Rights First has presented its annual human rights awards for more than 20 years. Former recipients include Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam from Darfur; Ludmilla Alexeeva from Russia; Helen Mack from Guatemala; Archbishop Pius Ncube from Zimbabwe; Saad Eddin Ibrahim from Egypt; Albie Sachs from South Africa; Hina Jalani from Pakistan; and Mary Robinson from Ireland.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.