Daniel Webb

Daniel’s Story

In March of 2014, Daniel Webb visited Australia’s offshore detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. As he walked through overcrowded rooms full of guards, he had the impression he was in a prison. One room held more than 100 bunk beds crammed so close together it was almost impossible to squeeze between them. Only days before, 24-year-old Reza Barati was murdered by detention centre staff during protests.

The people Daniel met on Manus Island had travelled to Australia by boat seeking asylum. Before they reached land, however, they were intercepted and detained on offshore detention centres established almost a year before by then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. In July 2013, Rudd announced that no person seeking asylum by boat would be resettled in Australia. Instead, they would be indefinitely detained on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, and on Nauru. The conditions in these detention centres are inhumane, with numerous reports of violence, sexual assault, medical neglect, suicide, self-harm, and more.

The people Daniel met on Manus Island were inspiring. He knew they could make great contributions to Australian society, if only given the chance. One man spoke seven languages, two of which he had taught himself in detention. Another, who didn’t speak a word of English when he was detained, has now written an autobiography in English that is over 1,000 pages long. Daniel met musicians, soccer players, women’s rights advocates, and tradespeople, to name a few. But, above all, these were human beings deserving of dignity and respect.

A lawyer by training, Daniel was awarded the Law Institute of Victoria LIV President’s Award in 2010 for his work in human rights and social justice. In 2014, he joined The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), an organization that advocates for indigenous rights, LGBTI rights, and other causes related to pluralism. When Daniel joined the HRLC, it was not yet tackling the refugee issue, so he lobbied the board to launch a program defending the human rights of refugees and people seeking asylum, a program he now leads.

To tackle the offshore detention issue in Australia, Daniel has developed an innovative approach that combines legal action, media advocacy, public campaigns and United Nations engagement. Daniel’s work has helped to hold the Australian government accountable for breaches in international law. His work has not stopped there. He realized he needed to change the public perception of people seeking asylum. Australians had to understand that the people detained offshore were not threats, but rather human beings with their own stories, talents and families. In 2016, he coordinated the #LetThemStay campaign, which engaged the hearts and minds of Australians, and mobilized teachers, church leaders, doctors and unions. People protested, wrote letters, and participated in online petitions and telephone campaigns. Polls showed a 17 per cent upswing in favour of letting Daniel’s clients stay in Australia.

Daniel and the lawyers he works with have prevented the deportation of more than 300 people, including 40 babies and 50 children, to Nauru and Manus, and prompted the release from detention of more than 230 people, including families with children. But many of these people continue to be at risk of deportation and he continues his struggle to protect them.

Daniel has demonstrated that the people living in offshore detention centres are not threats to society; they are lost opportunities for Australia. As Daniel explains, “By locking them up indefinitely, we are not only depriving them of their most basic of rights, but also depriving ourselves of all they have to offer our communities.”

Leyner Palacios Asprilla

Leyner’s Story

Chocó is one of Colombia’s disadvantaged departments. Situated in the north-western region of the country, it is inhabited primarily by Afro-Colombians and Emberá Amerindians, some of the most marginalized and excluded communities in the country. The region’s isolation and lack of government support left it open to decades of violence and exploitation by battling guerrilla and paramilitary forces. The communities in Chocó saw more than 15,000 deaths in Colombia’s 52-year internal conflict.

The municipality of Bojayá, in Chocó, suffered constant violence from both sides. In the spring of 2002, Bojayá’s citizens again found themselves caught in the middle of a battle between the paramilitary group United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the guerilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Community members, the United Nations, and the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia had warned the government of the dangers a battle would inflict on nearby civilians. On the morning of May 2, as community members were taking cover in a church and the house of the Augustinian missionaries, the AUC occupied an adjoining school, using the residents as a human shield. What followed was the most brutal attack in Colombia’s 52-year conflict. The FARC guerilla forces bombed the church, killing 79 people, including 48 infants and children. One of the people to survive was Leyner Palacios Asprilla. He emerged to find that 32 of his family members had been killed.

Over a decade later, in 2014, Leyner co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá, which represents 11,000 victims of the Colombian conflict. For centuries, because of their poverty and isolation, the communities in the municipality of Bojayá had no voice. Each community would act independently, representing only itself before the government, the FARC or international organizations. Because the Afro-Colombian and Emberá communities were culturally and linguistically distinct, they were often wary of one another. However, Leyner understood that many voices raised together would be louder and more powerful than each voice struggling to be heard alone. He united all of the communities under the common goal of stopping the violence and fighting for their human rights. He organized assemblies with representatives from every community in Bojayá, even the most remote, and encouraged each community to include a female representative. Now, these remote communities have created a collective voice that takes their demand for human rights to the highest levels of government, and around the world.

As a result of his fight for social justice, Leyner was asked to represent Bojayá massacre victims during peace negotiations between guerilla forces and the government. For his role in the process, he was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. A further result was that the FARC publically acknowledged their role in the 2002 tragedy and, in a private ceremony in a Bojayá church, requested forgiveness.

By bringing communities together in the fight for social justice, Leyner realized how powerful a chorus of diverse voices can be. Today, he continues to demand that Colombia embrace diversity by respecting the rights of all its citizens, particularly its most marginalized.

Lenin Raghuvanshi

Lenin’s Story

Growing up in Uttar Pradesh, Lenin Raghuvanshi was troubled by the gender inequality he witnessed in Indian society. As he got older, his awareness of discrimination only grew. While working with bonded labourers in India, Lenin recognized that none of the children bonded in the sari or carpet industries came from an upper caste. He identified caste, a deeply hierarchical and oppressive system of social stratification, as the root of multiple social conflicts and a major barrier to his dream of justice for all.

In 1996, with his wife Shruti Nagvanshi, Lenin co-founded the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), an inclusive social movement that challenges patriarchy and the caste system and advocates for marginalized groups in India. Through a grassroots, neo-Dalit approach, the organization works to unite Indians from all backgrounds, including Dalits (“Untouchables”) and Adivasis (Indigenous and Scheduled Tribes) to dismantle the caste system and champion diversity. Today, PVCHR has 72,000 members working against caste discrimination across five states.

Lenin has been credited with changing the discourse on Dalit politics in India. His efforts have brought the challenges facing India’s marginalized communities to both national and international attention. Lenin’s work extends beyond caste-based discrimination to advocating for the rights of children, women, migrant workers, torture survivors, religious minorities and any other community facing systemic discrimination in India. His initiatives range from folk schools that educate youth about human rights to Jan Mitra Gaon (“people-friendly villages”), a model he implements in conservative slums and villages to strengthen local institutions and to promote non-violence alongside basic human rights. In a country as vast and diverse as India, Lenin’s work to promote inclusion and basic rights for all is complex but essential. Across his varied efforts, Lenin is driven by the knowledge that every life has intrinsic value, and no case is too small. Through championing the inclusion of disenfranchised people across India, Lenin is fighting for the country he loves. He is doing all he can to ensure that rather than be torn apart by its remarkable diversity, India will be strengthened by it.

One of the world’s oldest civilizations, India is on its way to becoming the world’s most populous nation. India is incredibly diverse across multiple areas, including religion, language, caste and tribe. Close to 80 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people are Hindus, but there are also millions of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. India’s caste system is a social hierarchy dating back some 2,000 years. It categorizes Hindus at birth, dictating their place in society. At the bottom of this constructed hierarchy are Dalits and Adivasis, who together make up nearly a quarter of India’s population. These groups are societal outcasts, facing social and economic marginalization and discrimination. Although India’s constitutional framework recognizes group-differentiated rights, the country has experienced a growing climate of intolerance in recent years, fueled by the rise of right-wing nationalism. There is real concern that India’s inclusive citizenship policies and welfare architecture—championed and built over the past 70 years—are being dismantled, threatening the country’s pluralistic fabric.