A number of exceptional lawyers and defenders of human rights have been honored with the Prize in years past:
2016 Award Winner: Maria Foscarinis, founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
2015 Award Winner: Martina E. Vandenberg, founder and president of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center (HT Pro Bono).
2014 Award Winner: Hossam Bahgat, founder and former Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
2013 Award Winner: Chen Guangcheng, Chinese Civil Rights Lawyer and Activist who Fought for women’s rights in rural China.
2012 Award Winner: Almudena Bernabeu, attorney with The Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) a not-for-profit human rights law firm based in San Francisco. Ms. Bernabeu is the lead prosecutor who brought charges against Salvadoran officials for the massacre of Jesuit priests in 1989.
2011 Award Winner: Paul Van Zyl, former Executive Secretary of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), and now the CEO of PeaceVentures.
2010 Award Winner: Shadi Sadr, an Iranian lawyer who has risked her life in her efforts to protect the human rights of women, activists, and journalists, and who launched the “End Stoning Forever” campaign and Raahi, a legal center for women which has been forced to close since Ms. Sadr has been in exile.
2009 Award Winner: Mario Joseph, one of Haiti’s most influential and respected human rights attorneys and Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), which uses prominent human rights cases and a victim-centered approach to force open the doors of Haiti’s justice system for the country’s poor majority.
2008 Award Winner: Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, where he and his colleagues have helped reduce or overturn death sentences in more than sixty cases.
The 2016 Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize was awarded to Maria Foscarinis, founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the only national organization that uses the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness in America.
Ms. Foscarinis has advocated for solutions to homelessness at the national level since 1985, when she left her career at a major law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, to become an advocate for homeless people. She is a primary architect of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation addressing homelessness. She has led numerous subsequent, cutting-edge initiatives to prevent and end homelessness, including protecting housing rights for domestic violence survivors and education rights for homeless children; increasing housing resources through vacant properties; and countering the criminalization of homelessness and poverty. She has initiated and helped lead a national campaign to secure the human right to housing in the U.S., developed an initiative to protect tenants in the current foreclosure crisis, and advocated for and helped shape the federal plan to end and prevent homelessness. Ms. Foscarinis has led successful litigation to secure the legal rights of homeless persons, and writes regularly about legal and policy issues affecting homeless and poor persons. Ms. Foscarinis is an internationally known advocate and expert who is frequently quoted in the media, including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and the Huffington Post.
Martina E. Vandenberg
The 2015 Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize was awarded to Martina E. Vandenberg, who is the founder and president of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center (HT Pro Bono). Vandenberg established HT Pro Bono in 2012 with generous support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) Fellowship Program.
Prior to becoming an OSF Fellow, Vandenberg served as a partner at Jenner & Block LLP, where she focused on complex commercial litigation and internal investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. She served as a senior member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee.
Vandenberg has spent nearly two decades fighting human trafficking, forced labor, rape as a war crime, and violence against women. Vandenberg has represented victims of human trafficking pro bono in immigration, criminal, and civil cases. She has testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, the Helsinki Commission, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House Armed Services Committee on an array of human rights issues. Through HT Pro Bono, Vandenberg has trained more than 1,200 pro bono attorneys nationwide to handle human trafficking matters.
A former Human Rights Watch researcher, Vandenberg spearheaded investigations into human rights violations in the Russian Federation, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Uzbekistan, Kosovo, Israel, and Ukraine. She is the author of two Human Rights Watch reports, “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia & Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution,” and “Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of ‘Ethnic Cleansing.’”
As a researcher for the Israel Women’s Network, she investigated and published the first report documenting human trafficking into Israel. While living in the Russian Federation in the 1990s, she co-founded Syostri, one of Russia’s first rape crisis centers for women.
Vandenberg has received multiple awards for her leadership against human trafficking. In 2012, the Freedom Network USA presented Vandenberg with the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award for her “outstanding leadership and dedication in working to combat human trafficking and slavery in the United States.” In 2013, she received the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation’s Stevens Award for outstanding service in public interest law. She also received Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Pro Bono Award for her successful representation of trafficking victims in United States federal courts and her advocacy before Congress.
A Rhodes Scholar and Truman Scholar, Vandenberg has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the American University Washington College of Law and at the Oxford University Human Rights Summer Program. She is a graduate of Pomona College (B.A.), Oxford University (M.Phil), and Columbia Law School (J.D.).
Hossam Bahgat, age 34, is the founder and, for eleven years was the executive director, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a Cairo-based independent organization defending human rights in Egypt (www.eipr.org/en). Since 2002, the EIPR has used research, advocacy, and litigation to promote and defend the rights to privacy, religious freedom, health, and bodily integrity. Since the 2011 revolution, the EIPR has expanded its scope of work to include transitional justice, the protection of civil liberties and political rights, promotion of economic and social justice and reform of the criminal justice system. With training in political science and international human rights law, Bahgat is also Board Chair of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), and a member of the Board of Directors of the Fund for Global Human Rights. In 2011, Bahgat received Human Rights Watch’s Allison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.
“As human rights activists, our duty is not always to work on the popular issues, but also to work on issues that might not be popular for the majority. And that, in fact, is where we are most needed.” – Hossam Bahgat, in a 2009 interview with the New Internationalist Magazine.
“Human Rights Watch honors Hossam Bahgat for upholding the personal freedoms of all Egyptians.”— From the statement announcing Bahgat as the 2010 Human Rights Watch’s Allison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism. Read full award statement.
Chen was born on November 12, 1971, in Shandong Province in China. A high fever left him blind in infancy. He grew up in great poverty, and to enrich his life he created his “own world of experiences” from what he learned in nature. A self-taught barefoot lawyer, he hoped to defend himself and help others fight for civil rights in the China most of the world does not see: the impoverished villages outside of the huge modern cities
He has been politically active for more than twenty years and in that time has spoken out against and fought the government on many of their policies, especially those regarding the implementation of constitutional rule and rule of law.
After bringing a lawsuit directed at abuse related to China’s punitive one-child policy – which often results in forced abortions and sterilizations– he was arrested on trumped-up charges. After a trial, during which he was denied access to his legal counsel, he was convicted and sentenced to jail in 2006. Immediately after being released in September 2010, he was again placed under illegal detention.
He escaped in April 2012 and made his way to Beijing where he sought refuge and asked for the protection of his family. His escape shone an international media spotlight on his cause and also created tension between the United States and China. Ultimately he was granted permission by the Chinese government to leave for his studies abroad.
As a result of his tireless advocacy, he has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades, including the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the 2012 Lantos Human Rights Prize, and the 2012 Human Rights Award from Human Rights First. In 2006 Chen was named by Time Magazine as one of the world’s most 100 influential people. He now lives with his wife and two children in New York City.
SCU Press Release about Chen Guangcheng receiving the Alexander Prize
San Jose Mercury News article about Chen Guangcheng
Read an NPR article about Chen Guangcheng
New York Times opinion piece by Chen Guangcheng
Chinese language TVBUSA piece on Chen Guangcheng
ABC Bay Area news did a piece on March 14, 2012 about Almudena Bernabeu’s work to bring justice for the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Watch the clip…
As International Attorney for the Center for Justice & Accountability since early 2002, Ms. Bernabeu leads CJA’s Latin America program, serving on US-based civil Alien Tort Statute litigation against human rights abusers and universal jurisdiction criminal human rights prosecutions before the Spanish National Court. Ms. Bernabeu is also Director of CJA’s Transitional Justice Program. Almudena Bernabeu currently serves as the lead private prosecutor on two human rights cases before the Spanish National Court: one filed on behalf of survivors of the Guatemalan Genocide and the other brought against senior Salvadoran officials for the massacre of Jesuit priests in 1989. Ms. Bernabeu holds a Law degree from the University Of Valencia School Of Law, where she specialized in Public International Law. Trained in Spanish and US law, she is a member of the Valencia Bar Association and the International Bar Association. She is currently a PhD candidate in Public International Law at UNED University in Spain.
Ms. Bernabeu has worked in human rights and international law for the past decade. In addition to her law practice, she has published several articles on human rights litigation in national courts and its effectiveness in the struggle against impunity, as well as on reforming Spanish asylum and refugee law. She has participated in numerous panels and conferences throughout Europe, Latin America, and the United States and has conducted numerous trainings for lawyers and government prosecutors. From 1995-99, she worked in private practice in Southern Spain and with two UNHCR-coordinated non-governmental organizations on asylum and refugee cases focusing on clients from Latin America, North and Central Africa, and the Balkans. Throughout the 1990s, Ms. Bernabeu worked pro bono for Amnesty International-Spain and served as an investigator for the European Court for Human Rights. Ms. Bernabeu was recently elected vice-president of the Spanish Association for Human Rights. She also serves as a board member at a US based Human Rights organization called Equatorial Guinea Justice. She is a member of the advisory board of the Peruvian Institute of Forensic Anthropology (EPAF), a forensic group providing evidence on human rights violations investigations and prosecutions.
Paul Van Zyl
The 2011 Alexander Prize recipient was Paul van Zyl, who serves as CEO of PeaceVentures and serves as Director of New York University School of Law’s Transitional Justice Program. He is known for pioneering new approaches to human rights protection and has advised countries around the world on how to facilitate transitions to peace and democracy following periods of mass atrocity and human rights abuse.
From 1995-1998, Mr. van Zyl, a South African, served as the Executive Secretary of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was charged with investigating Apartheid-era crimes. He helped to establish the commission, develop its structure and modus operandi, and manage its operations.
The 2010 Alexander Prize recipient was Shadi Sadr, an Iranian lawyer who has risked her life in her efforts to protect the human rights of women activists and journalists. She has been arrested, beaten and imprisoned in Iran. In July 2009 she was arrested once again and then released, which allowed her to escape to Germany. On May 17, 2010, Ms. Sadr was convicted in absentia in a Tehran court of “acting against national security and harming public order” and was sentenced to six years in prison with 74 lashes.
The Committee selected Shadi Sadr because of her ceaseless dedication to championing the cause of Iranian women and risking her freedom to defend those who are wrongfully accused and imprisoned.
Ms. Sadr has touched the lives of thousands of individuals through the entities she has established and her support of campaigns such as “End Stoning Forever.” She founded the website “Women in Iran” and was the director of Raahi, a legal center for women which has since been closed. Ms. Sadr exemplifies the courage and self-sacrifice required of Alexander Prize recipients.