In early September, four indigenous leaders – including a prominent anti-logging activist – were murdered by illegal loggers in the Ucayali region of Peru’s Amazon rainforest. The Alexander Soros Foundation honored these deceased heroes Monday with the Foundation’s annual Award for Environmental Activism before a crowd of more than 100 human rights and environmental advocates at the TriBeCa Grand Hotel in New York City.
The award, given in honor of Leoncio Quincima Melendez, Jorge Rios Perez, Francisco Pineda and prominent activist Edwin Chota Valera, also includes a Foundation pledge to fund sustainable community development projects their Amazonian villages, and to support their surviving family members.
Diana Rios Rengifo, daughter of Jorge Rios, travelled outside Peru for the first time to accept the award on behalf of her father and their indigenous community, which has been fighting for more than a decade for the right to gain titles to their land and expel illegal loggers who raid their forests on the Brazilian border. An emotional Rios addressed the capacity crowd Monday after accepting the award.
Soros also recognized Robert Guimaraes Vasquez, an indigenous Shipibo leader who has worked as an environmental and human rights activist in the Ucayali region for more than two decades, who traveled to New York with Rios as a village representative.
Additionally, Soros announced the award’s newly formed nominating committee which will include Global Witness Co-Founder Patrick Alley, Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino, human rights scholar Aryeh Neier, Human Right Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, and attorney William Zabel.
Prior to the ceremony, NGO Global Witness released a groundbreaking report that sheds light on the murders of environmental activists in Peru over the last decade. The findings call into question the commitment of Peru, which will host to international climate talks in less than a month, to protect its forests – and those who have called them home for generations – from mining, logging, oil exploration and infrastructure development.
The event also included the screening of a documentary about the life of last year’s award winner, Cambodian anti-logging activist Chut Wutty, who lost his life defending the Prey Long forest community.