Chief Legal and Policy Officer at Human Rights Foundation, Javier El-Hage presents the 2023 Courage Award at the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for his remarks.
It’s my distinct honor today, on behalf of the 25 co-sponsor organizations of the Geneva Summit that are led by United Nations Watch and its leader, Hillel Neuer, to present today the 2023 Geneva Summit Courage Award to Félix Maradiaga, a fellow Latin American.
Now Félix is no ordinary Latin American. In a continent that has endured and continues to endure military dictatorships, communist dictatorships, and armed conflicts that have led to hundreds of thousands of dead people, Félix represents what is best of the Latin American spirit.
He renounced a lucrative career in the private sector in order to become a human rights defender. Which means that, for the last 16 years, Félix has devoted himself to expose the brutality of the criminal Daniel Ortega regime in Nicaragua.
During the Geneva Summit of 2019, four years ago, just after surviving an assassination attempt in Nicaragua, Félix stood here to denounce the crimes of the Ortega dictatorship, to call for the international community to get involved and to invoke sanctions on the regime.
From this podium, he denounced the extrajudicial executions, the killings, of around 350 of Nicaraguans that were protesting for democracy. He denounced that 82,000 people had been forced into exile at the time, thousands detained. He called for accountability for over 650 people that had been arbitrarily arrested.
“It is possible to defeat tyranny through civil resistance and nonviolence,” Félix said at the time, closing his presentation with a hopeful tone.
Two years later, however, in June 2021, the political police of Daniel Ortega kidnapped Félix and threw him into the dungeons of one of Latin America’s most horrendous prisons, El Chipote. The regime did this to Félix for daring to announce his candidacy for the presidency of Nicaragua.
Hillel mentioned this morning that it is illegal to run for president in Nicaragua. You get thrown into jail for doing that.
At El Chipote, Félix endured almost two years of inhuman and degrading treatment. For the majority of that period, he remained incommunicado.
A little over two months ago, Félix’s nightmare ended abruptly and unexpectedly alongside the nightmares of 222 fellow Nicaraguan political prisoners who were forcibly exiled in a plane to the United States and stripped of their nationality.
Félix did not only survive the brutality of Ortega’s jail, but only days after reencountering his equally courageous wife, Berta Valle, who advocated for his freedom throughout the world, and encountering his daughter, Alejandra, Félix again, he was not deterred, and he again chose to appear, invited by UN Watch, before the U.N. Human Rights Council to speak on behalf of the remaining political prisoners in Nicaragua. That’s the kind of bravery that Félix has shown.
Félix, where are you? Querido Félix: Courage is a choice. You have chosen, at repeated moments throughout your life, to choose courage, to choose facing dictatorships, at a huge personal cost, and this is why you deserve the Geneva Summit’s Courage Award. Congratulations.