Reebok Human Rights Award

International human rights activists were honored with the Reebok Human Rights Award on May 17 in New York City. Award recipients include (left to right) Li Dan, 27, a leader in the fight to confront China’s AIDS epidemic; Rachel Lloyd, 30, an advocate for sexually exploited children in the United States; Khurram Parvez, 28, a courageous voice of peace and human rights in Kashmir; Otto Saki, 24, a brave defender of justice in the face of a tyrranical regime in Zimbabwe and; Phuntsog Nyidron, 37, a Buddhist nun who at the age of 20 led a protest against the Chinese occupation in Tibet. (Reebok)

Phuntsog Nyidron was given several standing ovations yesterday in New York when she was finally presented with the Reebok Human Rights Award, which she won in 1995 while still in prison serving 15 years. Phuntsog Nyidron, who was released by China to the USA on March 15, joined this year’s award winners on May 17 at a major ceremony at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

The Reebok Human Rights Award honors activists 30 years of age or younger who have made significant contributions to human rights through non-violent means, often at great personal risk. This year’s award winners included a champion of people threatened by the growing in China, an advocate for sexually exploited children in the United States, a promoter of peace in conflict-torn Kashmir and a brave crusader for justice in oppressive regime in Zimbabwe.

During the ceremony, a film was shown depicting Richard Gere, Chairman of ICT’s board, receiving the award on behalf of Phuntsog Nyidron in 1995, and including footage of Tibet. When Paul Fireman, Former Chairman and CEO, Reebok International, announced that Phuntsog had been released and was there in person to receive the award, there was an audible gasp from the audience. Mr Fireman told Phuntsog: “For 11 long years we have waited to give you this award. You are a symbol of Tibet’s struggle for freedom.”

Phuntsog Nyidron said: “When the Reebok Human Rights Foundation announced my name as one of the recipients of the award for 1995, I was in prison in Tibet. Through over 15 years in prison, I was not at all aware of the tremendous international concern about the plight of Tibetan political prisoners like myself, as symbolized by the award. I am just an ordinary Tibetan. The actions that I took only reflected the prevalent feeling among the Tibetan people in Tibet about Chinese authorities’ attitude towards our spiritual and temporal leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and our people. I raised my voice, as did many of my fellow Tibetans, against China’s occupation of my country and denial of freedom of our people.”

Phuntsog Nyidron also talked about the current situation in Tibet and the people she left behind in Tibet, and said that while the Chinese had warned her to speak “within limits” when she was released, she had no intention of doing so. She said she had no regrets about what she had done. The large audience at the Skirball Center gave Phuntsog a standing ovation for every comment that she made.

Stephen Dickerman, Director of the Reebok awards program, said: “Every year, the Reebok Human Rights Award brings our attention to the courageous work of young human rights heroes around the world. These young defenders sacrifice so much to make us see human tragedies that have been cast into the shadows. Each of the stories reveals a simple truth: a single dedicated person can bring transforming light into darkness.”

Previous award winners joined the ceremony, and Phuntsog Nyidron met activists from all over the world. Tiananmen Square student leaders Wang Dan and Li Lu, who won the award in 1989, were among many who paid tribute to her courage and quiet determination.