AJWS Grantee Director Wins 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

NEW YORK, November 13 – American Jewish World Service congratulates Sonia Pierre, the director of the Movement of Haitian and Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA), on being awarded the 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award recognizes courageous and innovative individuals striving for social justice around the world. In the Dominican Republic, where Haitian nationals are routinely denied their basic human rights, Pierre and MUDHA are a prominent voice advocating for the rights of this oppressed minority. AJWS, which gives grants around the world to grassroots organizations, is now in its third year of supporting MUDHA’s civil society and human rights efforts.

“Sonia Pierre is an inspiring leader who has devoted her life to fighting for the equality of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, and we are ecstatic that she is being acknowledged with the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award,” said Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service.

The 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award will be presented by Ethel Kennedy in a ceremony hosted by Senator Edward Kennedy on November 17, 2006.

Background on Pierre and MUDHA
Haitian nationals and people of Haitian descent face extreme prejudice and are denied citizenship in the Dominican Republic. This has left the Haitian population stateless, and they are regularly denied basic rights such as education, housing and access to water. The high rate of HIV/AIDS infection in this population is a cause of further discrimination. Violence, particularly against women, is routinely committed against Haitian communities.

Pierre founded MUDHA in 1983 to address the needs of the impoverished Haitian immigrant and Haitian-descended communities in the Dominican Republic. Based in bateyes (the slums of the sugarcane workers), MUDHA’s program areas include legal defense for the rights of Haitian nationals, particularly women and children; preschool education and parent organizing; community health education and services; and trainings for health promoters and religious leaders in sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. MUDHA gives special attention to women and children, seeking not only to provide services, but to empower Haitian nationals to create change and advocate for their rights. Pierre was also a petitioner in the landmark case of Yean and Bosico v. Dominican Republic, where the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that nationality could not be denied based on someone’s race.

Like most of the estimated 650,000 of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic, Pierre’s family left Haiti to work in the Dominican sugarcane fields. Pierre grew up in a migrant worker camp; at the age of 13, she was arrested for being a spokesperson at a demonstration on behalf of braceros (Haitian sugarcane-cutters). Her outspoken advocacy for the cause has not wavered since, and, through MUDHA, Pierre has built a powerful movement for the rights of Haitian nationals.

AJWS supports women and organizations, such as Pierre and MUDHA, which engage in activism and leadership in vulnerable communities. Pierre has been a remarkable leader in galvanizing the women’s movement in the Dominican Republic, and AJWS congratulates her on this well-deserved award. 

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David L. Marcus
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