The 2017 Human Rights Tulip has been awarded to Mexican human rights defender Graciela Pérez Rodriguez. Dutch foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra presented her with the prize this afternoon in The Hague, two days ahead of Human Rights Day (10 December).
Between January and August this year alone, over 2,400 people were reported missing in Mexico. In 2012, Graciela’s daughter, brother and three nephews were disappeared by members of an organised crime group. The four were returning from a trip in the United States, but their journey ended abruptly on the roads of the border region of Tamaulipas, where almost 6,000 people have disappeared, according to the Mexican government.
Shortly afterwards, when the authorities told her they would not even start a search operation because it is ‘very dangerous’ in Tamaulipas, Graciela decided to take action herself.
Graciela Pérez Rodriguez is a founding member of the association Milynali-RedCFC, A.C., which organises searches and shares experiences with families in Tamaulipas looking for their missing loved ones. She also participates in the Citizen Forensic Science group, where she learned scientific methods of searching, recording data and taking DNA samples. This group helped establish the Mexican National Citizen Registry of Disappeared Persons and a DNA database run by and for citizens that facilitates the identification of victims’ remains at a late stage.
No one who opposes drug cartel criminals in Mexico can be sure of his or her life. Hivos helps Graciela protect herself and ensure her safety, both online and on the street. Since the beginning of 2016, Hivos’ Digital Defenders Partnership programme has supported Graciela and her organisation to improve the safety and security of their work. The programme increases and better coordinates emergency support for the internet’s critical users, such as bloggers, cyber activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists.
The Human Rights Tulip is an annual prize awarded by the Dutch government to human rights defenders. It consists of a bronze sculpture and €100,000, which is intended to enable recipients to further develop their work. This award will allow Graciela to be trained in specific aspects of her work as an advocate, and her organisation will receive funds to improve the search conditions for missing persons in Tamaulipas.