GENEVA, May 2, 2019 — UN Watch announced today that Rosa María Payá, one of Cuba’s leading pro-democracy activists and the daughter of the late dissident Oswaldo Paya, will receive the Swiss organization’s highest human rights award at the 2019 UN Watch Annual Gala Dinner on Thursday, June 13th in Geneva.
“Rosa María Payá was chosen for her courageous defense of freedom, liberal democracy and universal human rights,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch Executive Director. “Her mission to free the Cuban people from dictatorship has never been more vital.”
Ms. Payá is the daughter of renowned Cuban dissident and democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in 2012 under mysterious circumstances. Today, Ms. Payá carries on the work of her father, who founded the democratic Christian Liberation Movement and received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
“With this great honor, you give me the opportunity to raise the voice of the Cuban people, who each day, are stripped of their human rights and dignity by the ruling regime,” said Ms. Payá.
“The support of the international community is essential to achieve democracy and liberation for my country,” she added. “This award gives us hope that the change is closer every day.”
Leader of Cuban Democracy Campaign
Ms. Payá advocates for Cuban democracy both through local efforts in Cuba and international initiatives.
She is the leader of the Cuba Decide, a non-partisan group calling for a binding national referendum on the question of holding free, democratic elections in Cuba.
Under Payá’s leadership, the group campaigned during municipal elections in November 2017 for voters to annul their ballots to protest the lack of free and fair elections. Following the campaign, more than 30% of voters annulled their ballots at sites that the group monitored throughout the country.
Beyond her efforts on the ground in Cuba, Ms. Payá is a leading voice advocating for international pressure on Cuba and has raised the issue through passionate appeals at the UN Human Rights Council, the European Parliament, the US Congress, the Organization of American States, the Summit of the Americas and several national parliaments.
Her strategic efforts have led to concrete actions including the passing of a U.S. Senate Resolution in 2018.
Partner With UN Watch
A longtime partner of UN Watch, Ms. Payá has appeared at the organization’s events in parliaments, at the UN and at human rights conferences. Together with the organization, she has testified on the Cuban government’s human rights violations and called for a formal investigation of the regime’s targeted killing of her father.
Also serving as president of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, Ms. Payá led a delegation to observe legislative elections in Venezuela to show solidarity with pro-democracy advocates in Venezuela in 2015.
People en Espanol named her one of the “25 Most Powerful Latin Women” in 2013 and in 2018, she was a finalist for the prestigious Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, established by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Morris Abram Award & UN Watch
The award, which is UN Watch’s highest human rights distinction, commemorates the legacy of UN Watch’s founder, the late Ambassador Morris Abram, a pioneering civil rights advocate, diplomat and UN delegate, who in 1963 helped win the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that granted equality to the votes of African-Americans.
Previous winners of the prestigious prize include Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar; Chinese dissident Yang Jianli; Antonio Ledezma, the Mayor of Caracas and former political prisoner; Russian dissident and world chess champion Garry Kasparov; Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s first Minister for Women’s Affairs; and Esther Mujawayo, an activist for victims of the genocide in Rwanda.
UN Watch organized the annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, a key gathering for dissidents, and brings victims to testify before the United Nations Human Rights Council, including victims from China, Cuba, Egypt, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Venezuela.