Tribute to the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians

Tribute to the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians

“The Aurora pledge is a reflection of that collective belief that even in the darkest times, a brighter future is in the hands of those who can give help and hope. And so it is by helping those people on the ground that Aurora is able to make the kind of difference it does,” said CNN Host Fareed Zakaria in his video address at the Tribute to the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians session that was held during the Human Rights and Humanitarian Forum on May 9.

The Forum featured world leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and academics who came together to ponder topics including the global healthcare crisis, forced displacement, climate change, the right to education, AI, philanthropy, and gender justice, among other topics. During the Forum, a session paying tribute to the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians explored their impactful achievements while shedding light on the complexities of humanitarian work. It was preceded by a special video address from Mr. Zakaria, who praised the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians, saying: “These three reflect, in some ways, the highest values that Aurora embodies, but I think they also reflect something that we should always remember – that even in these dark times, there’s enormous hope.”

This Tribute to the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians provided an insightful exploration into their impactful work and remarkable achievements. It was co-hosted by Dele Olojede, Pulitzer Prize winner, Chairman of the Board of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship, and Aurora Prize Selection Committee member; Professor Hannah R. Garry, Executive Director of The Promise Institute for Human Rights at the UCLA School of Law; and Armine Afeyan, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.

As he opened the session, Dele Olojede mentioned numerous crises unfolding globally and underscored the importance of remaining hopeful despite the overwhelming effect they may have on all of us. “Many storm clouds are gathered in our world. Some of them have broken already and are raging, whether it’s in Ukraine, or Israel and the Palestinian Territories, or Sudan, or so many other places in the world, but the Aurora Humanitarians to whom you will be introduced today are doing us a special service – that of preventing us from falling into despair,” noted Mr. Olojede.

Professor Hannah R. Garry then took the floor to highlight the partnership of The Promise Institute with Aurora, which couldn’t have happened in a more relevant location or at a more poignant moment. “By hosting the Aurora Prize here, we connect California’s reputation as a leader in social justice movements with global efforts to come alongside and support those who are having significant human rights and humanitarian impact, so critical for the world today,” stated Professor Garry. “As we proceed with today’s Tribute to the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians, let’s use this time together to renew our own commitment to human rights and draw strength from the extraordinary example and contributions of our honorees.”

“We’re here today to celebrate some of humanity’s best. You’re going to see, in a few minutes, some of their stories, and I hope, as you heard just now and a couple of conversations earlier, you consider the fact that these are just everyday people,” noted Armine Afeyan. “There are many folks who have been Aurora Humanitarians in the past here with us today. I encourage you to speak with them. The moment we deify or distance ourselves, we let ourselves off the hook, and we all have the responsibility,” she added before inviting onstage Lord Ara Darzi, Chair of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.


Lord Darzi’s address was focused on celebrating the heroism of 2024 Aurora Humanitarians while showcasing their humanity. “[This is] a prize that not only recognizes their deeds but also acknowledges the immense hardship faced worldwide, especially during the times we are all navigating through as we speak,” said Lord Darzi. “The task of Aurora is a complex one. On one hand, we celebrate heroes, and on the other hand, we emphasize that our Humanitarians are just regular people who have chosen to do what many of us only witness in films and documentaries.”

It was time then to introduce the first 2024 Aurora Humanitarian, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja from Bahrain and Denmark – a fearless advocate who has dedicated his life to defending human rights and promoting political freedom in his native Bahrain, the Middle East, and North Africa since the 1970s. Mr. Al-Khawaja has been arrested several times for this work, including in 2011, for peaceful protests during the Bahraini Uprising, which resulted in him being sentenced to life in prison by a military tribunal. 

Raffi Gregorian, the son of the late Aurora Co-Founder Vartan Gregorian and the newest member of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Board of Directors, came onstage to tell the audience about this courageous humanitarian. “He is in dire need of medical attention, yet, despite the violence and indignities to which he has been subjected for more than a decade, Abdulhadi remains committed to non-violent protest and human rights advocacy,” said Mr. Gregorian. 


Due to his imprisonment, Mr. Al-Khawaja could not come to Los Angeles, so his colleague and longtime supporter, Khalid Ibrahim, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, accepted the Aurora Humanitarian Medal on his behalf. “The impact of my colleague Abdulhadi is that he actually initiated the human rights movement in Bahrain. He is an international human rights figure; he really did everything to achieve his goal – freedom for all people in Bahrain,” explained Mr. Ibrahim. “With a country that has massive human rights violations, you need a system. You need people documenting those violations, so he established the Centre for Human Rights.”

Dame Louise Richardson, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York and Member of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee, had the honor of introducing Nasrin Sotoudeh, the next 2024 Aurora Humanitarian. An Iranian human rights defender who has been representing opposition activists, young prisoners, and women’s rights activists, since 2003, Mrs. Sotoudeh has been frequently imprisoned, including in solitary confinement. After a prolonged hunger strike, she was released from prison on a medical furlough, which can, however, be revoked at any time. 

“Last October, Nasrin was arrested again and severely beaten for “violating hijab rules” and “acting against the psychological security of society.” She was released two weeks later but is still under a travel ban, with her bank account frozen, and facing additional charges for opposition to Iran’s mandatory hijab laws,” noted Dame Louise. Jeff Kaufman and Marcia Ross, creators of the documentary called “Nasrin,” which has played a crucial role in spreading awareness about the activist’s work and struggles, came onstage to accept the Aurora Humanitarian Medal on behalf of Nasrin. After this, Mrs. Sotoudeh, who was able to join the event remotely via Zoom, answered a few questions about her remarkable work.


But first, she thanked her filmmaking friends for their invaluable support over the years and expressed her indignation that so many things have become a painful human rights issue due to the restrictive limitations that are arbitrarily imposed on certain groups. “We are all human, and we all share the same fate. And I am so honored that our pain and our common have brought us together,” said Mrs. Sotoudeh. “Given what we endure, I would say that I need ever more strength than what I have.”

Finally, Leymah Gbowee, Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member and President of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, was asked to introduce the third 2024 Aurora Humanitarian, Dr. Denis Mukwege. A gynecologist and human rights activist who has been working since 1999 to provide medical, legal, and psychosocial aid to women subjected to sexualized and gender-based violence in the DRC, Dr. Mukwege has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

“Dr. Mukwege has been a leading advocate for elimination of rape as a weapon of war in his personal capacity and as an Advisory Committee member for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender-based Violence,” noted Mrs. Gbowee.


The audience applauded Dr. Mukwege as he received his medal and joined the panelists to discuss his lifetime impact and motivation. “I can say that the women I’m treating and healing at Panzi are my big inspiration. I could never go on without all the women I’m treating, because I can see the way they act, most of them act when coming to the hospital. They are completely destroyed, physically and mentally. But what is touching to me, is when women wake up [after surgery], they are asking about the well-being of their children,” explained Dr. Mukwege. “It’s giving me hope to see that even if women are suffering, they are still thinking about others. And what I’m doing is very small in comparison to what women are doing for the society.”