Awarded to Eric Rosenthal, Founder and Executive Director of Disability Rights International
NEW YORK, June 3, 2013 /CNW/ - Eric Rosenthal, founder and executive director of a pioneering international human rights advocacy organization dedicated to ending the segregation and abuse of children and adults with disabilities, is the 2013 recipient of The Charles Bronfman Prize.
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Each year, The Charles Bronfman Prize - and an accompanying $100,000 award - goes to a young humanitarian whose work is informed by Jewish values and has global impact that changes lives and inspires others.
As the founder of Disability Rights International (DRI), Rosenthal has provided global leadership and effected worldwide change on this critical issue. He has documented human rights conditions in over two dozen nations, has trained and inspired activists to work to protect people with disabilities in their own countries, and has recently launched the Worldwide Campaign to End the Institutionalization of Children. He and his partners have worked - often under dangerous conditions – to create a world in which all people with disabilities can enjoy basic human rights.
Rosenthal, 49, founded DC-based DRI twenty years ago, deeply affected by the brutal conditions in institutional settings that he witnessed around the world as a human rights activist, and committed to fill a void in the legal, advocacy and humanitarian communities.
"He has pushed the issue of institutional segregation of those with disabilities to the forefront, giving new face to the social justice and human rights movements. He is living Jewish values to global effect, and inspiring others to take notice and action," said James D. Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank Group, on behalf of the international panel of Prize judges who selected Rosenthal.
Rosenthal's path-breaking efforts brought world attention to the rights of people with disabilities, exposing a vacuum in international human rights advocacy that has now been filled by the growth of a new international disability rights movement. His documentation of abuses inflicted upon millions of children and adults with disabilities in more than 25 countries has led nations to end human rights violations.
The worldwide attention Rosenthal brought to human rights violations against people with disabilities was instrumental in gaining United Nations support for adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, now ratified by 130 countries.
Rosenthal has created, trained and led a network of human rights advocates and watchdog groups under the DRI umbrella to document and monitor inhumane institutional conditions and treatment for the mentally disabled in Eastern Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere.
Rosenthal's authoritative voice and access to power have created change. Turkey has eliminated the painful and dangerous practice of subjecting people with disabilities to electric shock therapies administered without anesthesia. In Serbia, where DRI exposed abuses against children with disabilities in orphanages, the government adopted a new policy of community integration with the goal of ending new placements of children in institutions.
DRI's advocacy led the European Union to stop funding segregated institutions and to dedicate millions of euros to Serbia's new community integration program. In Uruguay and Mexico, following the publication of DRI reports, abusive psychiatric facilities have been closed down.
Charles Bronfman, the namesake of the Prize, said Rosenthal brings a unique contribution, body of achievement and inspiring vision to the growing cohort of Prize Laureates. "Embedded in Eric's heart is the belief that we are all created in the image of God, and so every human must be treated with respect. By tirelessly exposing the horrendous conditions under which some of the most vulnerable among us are institutionalized and forgotten, and forcing the world to take notice and make change, he exemplifies how one individual can turn values into impact."
As the son of a career diplomat, Rosenthal was raised in Washington, DC and in Africa. He attended the University of Chicago, earning a bachelor's degree in Politics, Economics, Rhetoric and Law (PERL) in 1985, and went on to law school at Georgetown University, graduating in 1992.
"The Jewish principle from the Torah – Do not oppress the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt – has been very powerful in my life. I feel that from personal experience and from our collective history we as a people should be extra aware of excluding people from society. We are a people who care deeply about family and community, so if there is any group that is going to care about helping the disabled among us grow up with families and be part of communities and not marginalize and put them away, it ought to be our own Jewish community."
He credits his grandmother, an émigré from Eastern Europe, for helping to frame in historical terms the imperative of being a humanitarian. "My grandmother was herself diagnosed with manic depression. As a young person, I was exposed to the impact of a mental disability on her and on the broader family. I remember the very intense conversations that I had with her. She told me about the family that perished in the Holocaust and I remember the moment when she sat me down and said, 'Remember the people who were left behind.'
"As Jews, one generation from a Holocaust, we should understand why we must not allow any group of people or any person to be excluded or be dehumanized or be put away and allowed to die," he said. "The promise I made my grandmother to remember is very much core to the work that I do. We must not only remember the six million who perished in the Holocaust, we must also act to protect the 10 million children left behind in orphanages and other custodial institutions.
Rosenthal has been the recipient of prestigious human rights awards, including the Henry B. Betts Award, the highest honor in the field of disability rights. He is an Ashoka Fellow and former Echoing Green Public Service Fellow.
He has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the US National Council on Disability (NCD), for which he co-authored US Foreign Policy and Disability, a report that led to legislation to make American foreign assistance accessible to people with disabilities.
2013 marks the ninth year that The Charles Bronfman Prize is being awarded. Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, along with their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, established the Prize to honor their father and his commitment to applying Jewish values to better the world and to inspire the next generations.
"Embracing one's Jewish values means striving to create a more just world," said Stephen Bronfman, on behalf of the Prize founders. "Eric Rosenthal personifies this underlying principle of The Charles Bronfman Prize. By seeking to lift the lives of a marginalized population, he is elevating us all and demonstrating what a visionary humanitarian can accomplish."
Contact: Glenn Rosenkrantz, 1-646-245-8975, [email protected]
SOURCE: The Charles Bronfman Prize
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