A number of exceptional lawyers and defenders of human rights have been honored with the Prize in years past:
2022: Julia Olson
2021: Jackie Gonzalez
2020: David Morales
2019: Jessica Jackson JD ’11
2018: Emily Arnold-Fernández
2017: Paul Hoffman
2016: Maria Foscarinis
2015: Martina E. Vandenberg
2014: Hossam Bahgat
2013: Chen Guangcheng
2012: Almudena Bernabeu
2011: Paul Van Zyl
2010: Shadi Sadr
2009: Mario Joseph
2008: Bryan Stevenson
2022 Award Winner: Julia Olson is Founder, Executive Director, and Chief Legal Counsel of Our Children’s Trust. Julia has been a trailblazing leader, litigator, and legal strategist in climate and environmental law for over 25 years. After graduating from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1997, she created her own law practice in the Bay Area to litigate public interest environmental cases on behalf of grassroots conservation organizations in the West. Julia founded Our Children’s Trust – a non-profit public interest law firm that provides strategic, campaign-based legal services to youth from diverse backgrounds to secure their legal rights to a safe climate system – in 2010 when, as a new mother, she realized the shortcomings of environmental statutory law in redressing the greatest threat to her children and children everywhere: the climate crisis. She and her team at Our Children’s Trust have since pioneered a globally replicated model for youth-led legal action that draws from and integrates children’s rights, constitutional rights, climate science, and the public trust doctrine in order to protect the planet’s most vulnerable citizens: children.
Today, Our Children’s Trust is the only legal organization on the planet dedicated exclusively to representing young people in lawsuits against their governments to protect their fundamental human rights from the dangers of fossil fuel energy policy and resulting climate disruption, all at no cost to the young plaintiffs or their families. In addition to developing and litigating numerous youth-led state, federal, and global lawsuits and legal actions, Julia is also lead counsel in Juliana v. United States, the groundbreaking constitutional climate change case brought by 21 young Americans, including 11 Black, Brown and Indigenous youth, against the U.S. government for violating their Fifth Amendment rights to life, liberty, property, public trust resources, and equal protection of the law; this case is pending in U.S. District Court and could soon proceed to trial.
Julia and the young plaintiffs she represents in Juliana v. United States were featured in the award-winning feature length documentary film about their landmark case, “YOUTH v GOV.” She has been a recipient of the Kerry Rydberg Award for Environmental Activism, serves as a member of Rachel’s Network Circle of Advisors, and was named as one of Bloomberg’s “Green 30 for 2020.” Julia and Our Children’s Trust were also recipients of the Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism.
2021 Award Winner: Jackie Gonzalez is the Policy Director and co-founder of Immigration Defense Advocates (IDA), a policy project focused on the abolition of immigrant detention facilities in California. Combining years of experience working in direct services, Jackie has advocated for cutting edge policy related to immigration detention and legal services. As an expert on the issue of immigration detention policy before the California legislature, Jackie has led strategic initiatives designed to shut down detention facilities and secure much needed legal support to under resourced immigrant communities in the state.
Jackie received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Jackie began her career as a direct legal services attorney representing detained immigrant youth at Legal Services for Children, and working as a Deportation Defense Fellow at Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale LLP.
From 2011 to 2018, Jackie played an instrumental role in building two of the leading removal defense teams at non-profit agencies in the state of California. At Dolores Street Community Services, she coordinated and facilitated legal service provision and outreach efforts as the lead attorney for the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN), a network of thirteen organizations serving low-income immigrants. As the Immigration Policy Director at Centro Legal de la Raza, she helped grow Centro into one of the largest providers of removal defense services in the state. In the wake of the Trump presidency, she helped spearhead the formation of the Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership (ACILEP), a network that provides legal and support services to Alameda County families targeted by ICE enforcement. Read Jackie Gonzalez’ full bio.
2020 Award Winner: David Morales, is the lead prosecuting attorney of the El Mozote case and strategic litigation director for the human-rights nonprofit Cristosal. Morales, who was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, has spent more than 25 years as a human rights lawyer, including the last three with Cristosal, the 20-year-old nonprofit that works to advance human rights in Central America through rights-based research, learning, and programming.
Working on the El Mozote case in conjunction with Cristosal and another legal organization, Tutela Legal María Julia Hernández, Morales is representing victims and their families in what many consider to be one of the largest unprosecuted war crimes in the world. The 1981 El Mozote massacre was the largest of more than 200 massacres committed between 1970 and 1991. After the civil war ended in 1993, an amnesty law was passed, protecting the perpetrators and denying justice to the victims. In 2016, the Supreme Court of El Salvador overturned the amnesty law, opening the door for justice and the El Mozote trial of 17 ex-officers of the El Salvador military.
“Settling this historical debt with the victims of the war, we help El Salvador transform structures of oppression and impunity and strengthen access to justice for families affected by violence and human rights violations today,” says Morales.
Through his role with Cristosal, he also works with the Salvadoran government to establish procedures and policies for victims of violence. In addition, he has helped expand Cristosal’s Observatory on Forced Displacement by Violence into Guatemala and Honduras. From 2013 to 2016, Morales served as the Ombudsman for Human Rights in El Salvador, where he worked closely with Cristosal to release the first government report recognizing forced displacement by violence.
“David Morales is a powerful example of the good that one person can do when they harness their passion, skills, experience, and drive to fight for a cause,” said Anna Han, interim dean of Santa Clara Law. “We are delighted to honor him and his tireless work for justice.”
2019 Award Winner: Jessica Jackson JD ’11, is a human rights attorney who began her career representing California death row inmates in post-conviction appeals. She is currently the national director and cofounder, with Van Jones, of DreamCorps #cut50, a bi-partisan national initiative to reduce the prison population by 50 percent.
On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed into law The First Step Act, a major prison reform bill that The New York Times said will deliver “the most significant changes to the criminal justice system in a generation.” For this legislation, #Cut50 put together a bi-partisan coalition and took a leadership role to get the bill passed.
Jackson has spearheaded other prison reform including the Dignity for Incarcerated Women’s Act, an initiative led by formally incarcerated women that seeks to improve the treatment of women in prison, including allowing these women access to their children while incarcerated. Jackson helped introduce this bill with Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, and Jackson now leads the effort nationally to change laws in 20 states by 2020.
Jackson sits on the Committee for a Fair Judiciary, serves as an advisory board member of the American Constitution Society Bay Area Chapter, and represents Congressman Jared Huffman on the Democratic Central Committee of Marin.
In November 2013, she became the youngest ever elected official in Marin County when she joined the Mill Valley City Council, becoming the mayor of Mill Valley in November 2016.
Jackson earned her B.A. in political science from the University of South Florida Honors College and her JD from Santa Clara University School of Law, where she received the Dean’s Outstanding Student Leadership Award.
For more information on Jackson and her work, see www.cut50.org.
2018 Award Winner: Emily Arnold-Fernández, is the Executive Director of Asylum Access, the leading global refugee human rights organization. After learning that refugees often spend more than 2 decades in camps, Emily founded Asylum Access in 2005 to create a world where refugees can live safely, move freely, work and send children to school, and rebuild their lives.
Today, Asylum Access has impacted more than two million refugees worldwide, working intensively in 6 countries as well as at the global level to dismantle barriers to refugees’ economic and civic participation and ensure all refugees have a fair chance at a new life.
Emily’s achievements have earned her numerous accolades, including the Equality and Nondiscrimination Award from Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (2016); the prestigious Grinnell Prize (2013); a Wasserstein Fellowship at Harvard Law School (2013); California Young Lawyers Association Jack Berman Award of Achievement for Distinguished Service to the Profession and the Public (2011); and recognition by the Dalai Lama as one of 50 “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” (2009). She has been featured in the New York Times and published in Forbes, among other media.
Emily was selected as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Stanford University in Fall 2012, and has served on the Advisory Board of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. She holds a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center and a Bachelor of Arts cum laude from Pomona College.
2017 Award Winner: Paul Hoffman, human rights lawyer and partner in Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman, LLP. Mr. Hoffman is one of the leading human rights lawyers in the United States. He has been involved in many of the most important cases brought under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”), including the cases brought against Ferdinand Marcos and against corporate defendants including Exxon, Chevron, IBM, Ford, and many others. He argued the Sosa v Alvarzez-Machain and Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. He has argued ATS cases in the D.C., Second, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits and in many District Courts.
From 1984 to 1994, Mr. Hoffman was the Legal Direction of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. He was lead counsel in Coalition Against Police Abuse v. Board of Police Commissioners (the “police spying” cases), which challenged unlawful surveillance of community activists by the Los Angeles Police Department, and in Wilkinson v. FBI (a challenge to the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation against the National Committee To Abolish HUAC). In 1984, he received the Clarence Darrow Award for outstanding First Amendment advocacy for my work in the police spying cases.
Since 1994, he has been in private practice and since 1999 he has been a partner in Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman, LLP. His practice focuses on constitutional and civil rights litigation, including First Amendment, discrimination and privacy litigation, civil and criminal appeals anad international human rights litigtion. He has been named one of the 100 most influential attorneys in California by the Daily Journal.
Mr. Hoffman was an Associate Professor at Southwestern University School of Law Los Angeles, California from August 1981 to July 1984, where he was also the Co-Director (with Stanley Fleishman) of a clinical program on the rights of the disabled and elderly. He is currently the Director of the International Human Rights Litigation Clinic at UC Irvine School of Law where he also teaches in the Civil Rights Litigation and Appellate Litigation Clinics. In the past, he has taught as an Adjunct Professor at Stanford Law School, UCLA School of Law, USC Law School, Loyola Law School, and Southwestern University School of Law.
He has long been active in Amnesty International, including serving as the Chair of Amnesty International-USA’s Board twice ans serving as the Chair of AI’s International Executive Committee from 2002-2004. He is also the co-founder of the Center for Justice and Accountability.
He is the author of numerous articles on civil and human rights subjects and is the co-author of an International Human Rights casebook. He has appeared at dozens of conferences on civil and human rights topics over the years.
He is a 1976 graduate of New York University School of Law and received a M.S. degree in 1973 from The London School of Economics and Political Science. He received his B.A. from the City College of New York in 1972.
2016 Award Winner: 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.
2015 Award Winner: Martina E. Vandenberg, 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.).
2014 Award Winner: Hossam Bahgat, founder and former 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.
2013 Award Winner: Chen Guangcheng, Chinese Civil Rights Lawyer and Activist who Fought for women’s rights in rural China.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. 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.
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. Mr. Joseph has led the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti since 1996. Attorney Joseph and the BAI represent political prisoners and victims of political violence, and fight to make Haiti’s justice system work for poor people.
The BAI was established by the Haitian government to help victims and the justice system prosecute human rights cases, mostly from Haiti’s 1991-1994 de facto military dictatorship. From 1996 to 2004, the office fought to make the justice system work for Haiti’s poor, by representing human rights victims in court and helping them advocate both inside and outside of the courtroom. The BAI worked closely with judges, prosecutors, police and government officials, providing legal, technical and material assistance, as well as policy advice. The BAI trained Haitian law school graduates, hosted U.S. law student interns and worked with U.S. law school clinics through its clinical program. Attorney Joseph was the attorney of record for the victims, and the chief trial lawyer, and helped supervise the BAI training program.
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. In 2007, EJI collected the traumatic stories of 73 children as young as 13 who have been tried as adults and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The EJI is working to correct these harsh sentences.
A graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard School of Government, he joined the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta as an attorney in 1985. From 1989-1995, he represented capital defendants as the executive director of the Alabama Capital Representation Resource Center. He joined the clinical faculty at New York University School of Law in 1998, and his publications on capital punishment and criminal justice are internationally recognized.