Protector of Vulnerable Migrants and Refugees to Receive 2017 Human Rights First Award

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New York City – Human Rights First announced today it will honor Friar Tomás Gonzáles, founder of La 72, with its 2017 Human Rights First Award. Friar Tomás is being recognized for his courageous work to provide refuge for desperate people fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The organization will present the Human Rights First Award at its annual gala on October 18 at Chelsea Piers in New York City.

“At a time when refugees and migrants are being vilified and dehumanized around the world, we are inspired by the courageous work of Friar Tomás and the staff of La 72, who protect and defend the rights of the hemisphere’s most vulnerable population," said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “At great personal risk, Friar Tomás and his team provide a crucial lifeline and beacon of hope for thousands of people fleeing for their lives.

In 2010, the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas kidnapped and massacred 72 migrants who were attempting to reach the United States. Horrified by the crime and moved by the vulnerability of people fleeing violence in Central America, Friar Tomás Gonzáles founded La 72 to assist people in desperate need of protection. Today, La 72 is Mexico’s largest shelter for migrants. In 2016 alone, it provided food, water, shelter, spiritual guidance, and legal advice to nearly 14,000 people. Because of their courageous work, Friar Tomás and the staff of La 72 are in the crosshairs of Los Zetas, which has repeatedly threatened to kill them. Unbowed, Friar Tomás persists in championing the human rights of migrants and challenging the Mexican government to end impunity for crimes against them.

For more than 30 years, Human Rights First has presented its annual Human Rights First Award to courageous activists on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom and dignity. Previous recipients include: Iraqi human rights activists Khaleel Aldakhi and Ameena Saeed Hasan; European activists Jane Braden-Golay, Siavosh Derakhti, and Niddal El-Jabri; Ryan Boyette of the United States/South Sudan; Dennis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Chen Guangcheng of China; Basem Fathy of Egypt; Shehrbano Tasser of Pakistan; Julius Kaggwa of Uganda; Viktória Mohácsi of Hungary; Damos De Blanco (Ladies in White) of Cuba; Ludmilla Alexeeva of Russia; Helen Mack of Guatemala; Merenghiz Kar of Iran; Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt; Albie Sachs of South Africa; and Hina Jalani of Pakistan.

For more information or to speak with Massimino, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.

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