Previous Human Rights Awards Dinners

The Human Rights Awards Dinner, which began decades ago, honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the promotion of human rights. It celebrates the work of volunteers whose efforts impact the support of human rights locally and internationally. 

The 2016 Human Rights Awards Dinner featured United Nations Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns as the keynote speaker and recipient of the Don & Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. As Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Heyns investigated and exposed some of the world's most egregious human rights violations. He made updating the Minnesota Protocol a priority during his tenure as a special rapporteur.

The Minnesota Protocol is a groundbreaking investigative tool The Advocates for Human Rights developed in the 1980s and the United Nations adopted United Nations in 1991 with the official title, UN Manual on the Effective Prevention oif Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. The manual, widely known by its original name, the Minnesota Protocol, was the first set of international guidelines for investigating suspicious deaths. Effective investigation is key to establish responsibility and to hold perpetrators accountable, but no international standards had existed that required governments to initiate or conduct investigations of suspected unlawful deaths. In 2015, Mr. Heyns invited The Advocates to help update the Minnesota Protocol with forensic, medical, and other advancements and legal changes that have taken place since the manual's orginal publication.

Also at the event, David Wippman, dean of the University of Minnesota Law School, was presented The Advocates' Special Recognition Award for his passion for human rights and his work with the Center for New Americans, a collaboration between the law school and The Advocates and others to expand urgently needed legal services for noncitizens, pursue litigation to improve our nation's immigration laws, and support noncitizens in the region through education and community outreach.

Volunteer Awards were presented to:

Mary Ellen Alden, attorney volunteer who has fought tirelessly in her representation of asylum seekers;
Thomas Dickstein, high school student who traveled to Nepal to connect with students at The Advocates' school in the Kathmandu Valley and who has raised contributions for The Advocates;
Gray Plant Mooty Law Firm, its pro bono team has taken on complex refugee and immigration cases involving female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and levirate marriage;
Stinson Leonard Street Law Firm and Attorney Hanok Gabisa, submitted a complaint to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Ethiopian government's use of lethal force to respond to peaceful Oromo student protests of Ethiopian government actions;
Thomson Reuters' Research Team, attorney volunteers who pore through thousands of UN statements to identify countries that may be receptive to lobbying on women's rights, the death penalty, and LGBTI rights; and
Suzanne Turner, coordinator of Dechert Law Firm's pro bono work, is central to finding eager volunteers to help The Advocates. She also traveled with The Advocates twice to the other side of the world to conduct fact-finding and to document how to strengthen Mongolia's response to domestic violence.

The event was held Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at Marriott City Center in downtown Minneapolis.

The 2015 Human Rights Awards Dinner featured Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Sonia Nazario as the keynote speaker. Nazario is noted for her story Enrique's Journey, which describes a Honduran boy's struggle to flee violence in his home country and to find his mother in the United States. It was won more than a dozen awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize for featuring writing, the George Polk Award for International Reporting, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award's Grand Prize. Expanded into a book, Enrique's Journey became a national bestseller and won three book awards.

Nazario has spent more than 20 years reporting and writing about social issues in the United States, most recently as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Nazario, who grew up in Kansas and Argentina, began her career at the Wall Street Journal. She has been named among the most influential Latinos by Hispanic Business Magazine and a "trendsetter" in 2012 by Hispanic Magazine.

The Advocates' Special Recognition Award was presented to VocalPoint Chorus and to Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Luca (CTUL). VocalPoint Chorus, a 70-member auditioned chorus referred to as singers with a cause devoted to social justice, held two concerts in 2015 to benefit The Advocates’ work to make a better, safer world for women. CTUL worker-leaders use human rights documentation and peer training to identify human rights abuses, then engage in direct action, litigation, policy advocacy, and partnerships to ensure better working conditions for low-wage immigrant, refugee, and citizens in Minnesota. CTUL's retail cleaning and fast food campaigns have resulted in greater dignity for too-often-invisible workers, and their new Defensores project helps to ensure that workers facing unsafe or unfair conditions can access legal protections.

The Advocates' Volunteer Award was presented to:

Eleni Beyene, Amharic translator and interpreter
Elizabeth Cutter, presenter and commentator on domestic violence laws;
Mary Diaz, Spanish interpreter for Central American clients;
Jorg Pierach, on behalf of Fast Horse, the integrated marketing firm that designed The Advocates' brand and website;
Carreen Heegaard, docent conducting human rights tours at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Sophia Leenay, French translator
Teresa Mesa, Spanish interpreter and translator of Central American clients
Ali Tews, Spanish translator
Barbara Weissberger, Spanish interpreter in cour for unaccompanied minors and families from Central America

The event was held Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at The Depot in downtown Minneapolis.

The 2014 Human Rights Awards Dinner's keynote speaker was Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who was also presented the 2014 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. Carlson Nelson, an extraordinary values-based leader and human rights advocate, is often best known for the success of the Carlson brands. The former Carlson CEO and board chair, she signed the travel industry’s International Code of Conduct to end child prostitution, pornography, and trafficking. Carlson Nelson also co-founded the World Childhood Foundation, and she worked tirelessly to defeat the marriage amendment in Minnesota.

The 2014 Special Recognition Award was presented to Chimgee Haltarhuua, a Mongolian immigrant living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, who teaches and performs at Circus Juventas. She founded the circus group Mission Manduhai in 2010. The group travels in Mongolia, staging free performances for nomadic herders to raise awareness about the problem of domestic violence. A survivor of domestic violence, she has assisted The Advocates with its domestic violence work in Mongolia.

The 2014 Volunteer Awards were presented to Mark Petty, Julie Shelton, and Laura Tripiciano.

The event was held June 25, 2014, at the Minneapolis Hilton.

The 2013 Human Rights Awards Dinner celebrated The Advocates' 30 years working for dignity and justice. Ambassador Samuel L. Kaplan and Sylvia Kaplan delivered the event's keynote speech. Tireless campaigners for human rights, the Kaplans had spent four years previous to the Human Rights Awards Dinner representing the United States in the Kingdom of Morocco. 

Minnesotans United for All Families and Our Vote Our Future were each presented with the 2013 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award.

The event was held June 6, 2013, at the Minneapolis Hilton.

Ifrah Jimale, a former asylum client of The Advocates, was the event's keynote speaker. Actor and human rights activist, Mike Farrell was presented the 2012 Don and Arvonne Frase Human Rights Award. Best known for playing Captain B. J. Hunnicutt in the popular television series M*A*S*H*, Farrell is a human rights activist committed to abolishing the death penalty. At the time of the dinner, Farrell was president of Death Penalty Focus. He is the author of two books, Just Call Me Mike: a Journey to Actor and Activist and Of Mule and Man.

Volunteer Awards were presented to John Gutterman, Jr.; Rachel Hamlin; Robert Lewis; Sharon Link; and Hon. Kathryn Quaintance. The 2012 Special Recognition Award went to Safe Harbors Initiative, for its work to end the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children in Minnesota.

The event was held June 21, 2012, at the Minneapolis Hilton.

Keynote speaker and recipient of the 2011 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award Recipient was Dr. Shirin Ebadi, the first woman judge in Iran. Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her courageous work supporting democracy and human rights. Her human rights work in Iran began with the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when she was dismissed from her position and made a clerk in the same court she once presided over. In 1992 she began a private law practice, taking child abuse cases; defending political dissidents, members of the minority Bahai faith, and journalists; and representing the families of people murdered by the government. Ebadi is the author of, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope (2006), book published in 2006 and a New York Times bestseller. Her book, The Golden Cage, released in April 2011, was available at the Human Rights Awards Dinner.

The Special Recognition Award was presented to the Islamic Resource Group for its extraordinary contributions to intercultural understanding. Volunteer Awards went to Bill Cameron, Deborah Fowler, and Cuong Nguyen.

The event was held May 19, 2011, at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Keynote speaker and the 2010 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award Recipient was Dr. Azar Nafisi, recognized internationally for her advocacy for advocacy for human rights, and especially women's rights, in Muslim societies. She has written extensively on women's rights in her home country of Iran, including the book Reading Lolita in Tehran. The winner of many literary awards, including the 2004 Nonfiction Award from Booksense and the Frederic W. Ness Book Award. Her other publications include Things I Have Been Silent About (2008); La Voce Verde (2006); Anti-Terra: A Study of Vladimir Nabokov’s Novels (1994); and numerous chapters and articles on issues related to promoting democracy and human rights in Muslim societies, women’s rights, and literature and culture. In 2010, Nafisi was a Visiting Professor and director of the Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. She served on the faculty at Tehran University and later Allemeh Tabatabai University, and as a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford, she taught about the interactions between Western and Iranian culture. 

The 2010 Special Recognition Award was presented to Ellen Pence for her extraordinary contributions in protecting women's human rights, especially their right to be free from violence. Volunteer Awards were presented to R. Mark Frey and Rose Grengs.

The event was held May 20, 2010, at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center.

Dr. Sima Samar delivered the event's keynote speech and was presented the 2009 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. Samar, of Afghanistan, is a formidable advocate for human rights in Afghanistan. She established the country's first Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and chaired the first human rights commission in Afghanistan’s history. As a woman and ethnic minority, her courageous voice has brought about meaningful changes in the lives of Afghanis and has brought global attention to the egregious human rights abuses committed against her people, especially girls and women. At the time, Samar served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, acting as an intelligent and objective observer for the international community during the horrors of the Darfur genocide.

The 2009 Special Recognition Award recipients were the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Management Team; Dulce Foster; Dianne Heins; Mark Kalla; and Jim O’Neal.

The event was held June 23, 2009, at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center.

The 2008 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Barbara A. Frey, co-founder of The Advocates for Human Rights and its first executive director, and to Samuel D. Hines, co-founder of The Advocates for Human Rights and its first chairperson

The 2007 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Priscilla Hayner, co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice, where she serves as Director of the Peace and Justice Program, and to Sofia Macher, the first female head of the Peruvian branch of Amnesty International and a Commissioner for Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The 2006 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Kao Ly Ilean Her, Esq., executive director of the Minnesota State Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans; to Lupe R. Serrano, director of Casa de Esperanza; and to 
Hauwa Ibrahim, for defending women's rights in Nigeria through his successful challenge of Islamic Sharia law in several cases in Nigerian court.

The 2005 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to The American Refugee Committee for delivering life-saving medical supplies to victims of the tsunami in Southern Thailand, and to The Center for Victims of Torture for helping torture survivors from more than 60 countries heal and rebuild their lives.


The 2004 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award was presented to the Honorable Walter F. Mondale for his decades of service and leadership on human rights issues.

The 2003 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Professor David Weissbrodt, director of the University of Minnesota's Human Rights Center; to Paul and Sheila Wellstone, in memoriam, for their tireless promotion of human rights and their leadership in the United States Senate on human rights issues; and to the Honorable Mary Robinson, past president of Ireland and past United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The 2002 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to William F. Schultz, executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., and to Susanna Vardanyan, executive director of the Women's Rights Center in Yerevan, Armenia.

The 2001 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, past president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and to John Anthony Kaiser, MHM (1932-2000) for his human rights activism in Kenya.

The 2000 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to U.S. Representative Bruce Vento for his commitment to human rights throughout his career, and to Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association of Rochester, Minnesota for its services to southeastern Minnesota's immigrant and refugee community.

The 1999 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Baltasar Garzón Real, the Spanish magistrate whose leadership initiated the case against ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and to Wilma Mankiller, Chief of the Cherokee Nation, whose life and work has been dedicated to Native American and women's issues.

The 1998 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Arvonne Fraser and to Loretta Frederick in recognition of their outstanding achievements in the area of women's human rights, and to The Women's Center and Refleksione for work to prevent violence against women in Albania.

The 1997 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Sulo Shrestha-Shah, president of RUGMARK-Nepal and owner of a rug factory that provides innovative programs to support children, and to Broad Meadows Middle School of Quincy, Massachusetts, which demonstrated the power of youth activism by raising over $100,000 to build a school in honor of Iqbal Masih.

The 1996 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award was presented to Justice Richard Goldstone, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. His integrity and vision made the tribunal an effective instrument of justice.

The1995 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to M. Nazie Eftekhari, Jose Lamas, W. George Meredith, Viet Ngo, and Rocky Ralebipi, highlighting outstanding contributions of immigrants.

The 1994 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to James P. Grant, executive director of UNICEF, and to National Street Children's Movement, Brazil, for its work protecting the world's children.

The 1993 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Jadranka Cigelj and to Dr. Shana Swiss for their work preventing rape during wartime.

The 1992 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Radio Enriquilo, Fernando Solanas, and Laura Waterman Wittstock for their work promoting and protecting freedom of expression.

The 1991 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award was presented to Yuri Afanas'ev on behalf of the democracy movement in the Soviet Union.

The 1990 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to Dith Pran, Pan Marann, Sova Niev, and Sos Duong in memory of the victims of genocide in Cambodia.

The 1989 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award was presented to Maria Socorro Diokno, Free Legal Assistance Group of the Philippines.

The 1988 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award was presented to Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, Copenhagen.

The 1987 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Awards were presented to organizations of families of the detained and disappeared in Argentina, Guatemala, and South Africa.


The 1986 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award was presented to U.S. Representative Bill Frenzel for his work on behalf of Soviet Jews.

The 1985 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award was presented to Mayor Don Fraser for his international human rights work.