Human Rights Tulip 2020
On the 10th of December, foreign minister Stef Blok, on behalf of the Dutch government, presented the Human Rights Tulip to Lilit Martirosyan, a transgender woman from Armenia. By awarding this prize the Netherlands seeks to show its support for people who promote and stand up for human rights in peaceful and innovative ways. Mr Blok explains how this year’s winner has done just that.
The Human Rights Tulip is an annual award consisting of a bronze sculpture and €100,000. Money that will be put to good use, as the winner said during the award ceremony. Her Right Side Human Rights Defender NGO will use the prize money to create a new shelter for transgender people in Armenia.
Lilit Martirosyan was one three finalists selected by a jury out of 100 nominees from all over the world. Foreign minister Stef Blok shares why she was chosen to receive the Human Rights Tulip 2020:
'Lilit had a difficult childhood. She was assigned male at birth, but identified as a girl. At the age of eight or nine she would wear her mother’s clothes, to her father’s great shame and distress. ‘What will the neighbours say?’, he would shout at her.
After fleeing her home at the age of 14, and knowing that people like her are often deprived of an education and therefore unable to find employment and make a living, Lilit became a sex worker in a big city. But the life of a sex worker was not the life she envisioned for herself. She wanted to stand up for her rights, and help others.
This led her not only to be the first person in Armenia to register as a transgender woman, but also to found the Right Side Human Rights Defender NGO, in 2016. This NGO is run by and for transgender people and sex workers in Armenia and the rest of the South Caucasus.
Her work has resulted in her receiving regular death threats. In April 2019, for example, when Lilit was the first member of Armenia’s LGBTI community to address the National Assembly, many people condemned her speech, including the chairperson of the parliamentary session, who told a Radio Free Europe reporter that ‘perverts must be expelled from Armenia’.
The night after Lilit gave the speech, the man who had just delivered a food order to her apartment posted her address in a public message on Facebook to help those wanting to kill her.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to experience such hatred and to live in constant fear. Nobody deserves that.
As a result of her peaceful actions and those of the Right Side Human Right Defenders NGO, LGBTI people and sex workers in Armenia now have a community centre, which has become a home and a safe space for them. They also have access to legal and mental health support, as well as English courses and other forms of education. It is now possible for transgender people to change the name in their passport from a male to a female name or vice versa without undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
Lilit also organises summer camps for the parents of transgender people allowing them, for the first time in their lives, to talk openly about the problems they face and, more importantly, to begin to realise that they cannot change their children and that their children did not choose this life, but that this is who they are.
Another of the nominees for the Dutch Human Rights Tulip award, Lorena Cabnal, an indigenous feminist from Guatemala, has expressed this sentiment beautifully: ‘There are no two equal stones, two equal rivers or two equal mountains. Even two trees that bear fruit are not identical. In the same way, bodies are not the same either. Men, women, transgenders, transvestites, lesbians, gays, non-binary people. It doesn’t matter what you are. What matters is the plurality of life.’
I couldn’t agree more.
So today, on Human Rights Day, I would like to thank Lilit and all those other brave human rights defenders for not just living their lives, but also advocating for those who cannot live as openly, and for challenging their country’s cultural and political institutions.
I want them to know that the Netherlands will continue to support them, because no matter who you are, no matter where you are from, and no matter how much money you have… human rights are for everyone!'