Washington, D.C.—On October 28, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) awarded its prestigious Human Rights Awards for 2015 to two recipients who have shown unwavering dedication to advancing human rights in the Americas. This year, the 10th anniversary of the awards, WOLA honored Tim Rieser, Foreign Policy Aide to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and the Colombian human rights organization Justicia y Paz.
Tim Rieser was recognized for his commitment to human rights during his 30 years working in Congress. He was instrumental in last year’s historic opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Over the years, he has made outstanding contributions to human rights in the hemisphere—including drafting the Leahy Law, which prohibits U.S. aid to units of foreign security forces that violate human rights; setting human rights conditions on military and counter-narcotics aid for Colombia, Mexico, and Central America; securing funding for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG); and defending the rights of indigenous people.
Tim Rieser accepting the 2015 WOLA Human Rights Award.
Justicia y Paz, the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace in Colombia, is a leading Colombian human rights organization. It has played a key role in working for peace and supporting victims of the violence and displacement caused by the country’s 50-year-old armed conflict. As peace negotiations between the Colombian government and rebels move forward, Justicia y Paz works to ensure that Colombia’s most marginalized populations (Afro-Colombians, indigenous groups, and rural farmers) are being represented in the talks. WOLA honors Justicia y Paz for its unwavering commitment to justice in the face of intimidation and violence.
Danilo Rueda accepting the 2015 WOLA Human Rights Award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Describing Tim Rieser, WOLA’s Executive Director Joy Olson said, “Anyone who has worked to get U.S. policy to defend and protect human rights in the last 30 years knows the incredible difference Tim Rieser has made. When he sets his sights on an injustice, he is unstoppable.”
Reflecting on WOLA’s recognition of his work, Tim Rieser said: “For decades, Senator Leahy and I have relied on WOLA’s research and advocacy to help shape U.S. policies to protect human rights. Year after year, WOLA’s mission in support of dignity, justice and peace has been our mission. Regardless of party affiliation or perspective on what is happening in Mexico, Central and South America, people want to know what WOLA thinks because WOLA’s staff have expertise about these countries and know how to work with Congress. It is an honor for me to receive this award and I am grateful to everyone who supports WOLA’s work.”
Describing Justicia y Paz, Joy Olson said, “Justicia y Paz embodies a profound sense of courage. Despite the threats that its members face on a daily basis, they work tirelessly in the most difficult areas of Colombia. It is in these communities that peace will either succeed or fail, so the work of Justicia y Paz is vital to ensure a lasting peace.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), who presented the award to Justicia y Paz, also praised the organization. “Congratulations to Justicia y Paz on receiving WOLA’s Human Rights Award. Throughout decades of armed conflict, Justicia y Paz has boldly empowered the people of Colombia to raise their voices for peace and justice,” said Congresswoman Lee. “By working with vulnerable communities, Justicia y Paz is paving the way for lasting peace and prosperity. This award is a well-deserved recognition of Justicia y Paz’s commitment to realizing justice for all.”
Danilo Rueda, who accepted the award on behalf of Justicia y Paz, said, “We are deeply honored. It is a tribute to the victims of Colombia’s conflict, those who stand in the face of fear and the effects of terror, seeking truth, justice, and full reparations to rebuild their lives and construct a democratic country.”
For over 40 years, WOLA has been a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the WOLA Human Rights Awards, which are given to organizations or individuals who exemplify a commitment to WOLA's vision for the future, where human rights and social justice are the foundation for public policy.
Past award honorees include former Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, Executive Director of the Myrna Mack Foundation Helen Mack, and the Salvadoran online newspaper El Faro.
WOLA invites members of the press to use photos of the event, which can be accessed here, in both print and online outlets.