NED Honors Partners and Leaders at the 2024 Democracy Awards

On June 13, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) held the 2024 Democracy Awards to pay tribute to the courage and achievements of NED partners from Ukraine, Tibet, and Sudan, as well as extraordinary champions of democracy around the world.  

“The reason we are so inspired to do our work is because of the work of those on the forefront of the struggle for democracy,” said NED President and Chief Executive Officer Damon Wilson. “The best response to these challenging times is to help others pursue their democratic aspirations peacefully. This ethos is epitomized in our honorees this evening. They represent the unwavering spirit of democracy.” 

The NED Democracy Awards are presented annually by the NED Board of Directors. The 2024 Democracy Awards honored the Regional Center for Human Rights, Tibet Action Institute and Waey Organization. [Learn more about the Democracy Awards and past honorees.] 

From top left: Representative Sarah Jacob and Zahra Hayder; Representative Joe Wilson and Kateryna Rashevska; Peter Roskam, Gyal Lo, and Lhadon Tethong; Sikyong Penpa Tsering and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi; Saul Vera and Jorge Glem; Aung Myo Min and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell; Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Senator Jeanne Shaheen; Representative Joaquin Castro and Sikyong Penpa Tsering; Representative Steve Cohen and Evgenia Kara Murza
Zahra Hayder accepts the 2024 Democracy Award on behalf of Waey Organization

“Over the years we have been honored to recognize the special contributions of men and women here and abroad who personify the commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights that are at the heart of our work,” said NED Board Chair Kenneth Wollack. “There are times when our award recipients represent the celebratory side of the democracy story, but tonight we are reminded of a different side of the story—the hard reality that the democratic struggle continues in far too many places.” 

Waey Organization was honored for building a movement that empowers youth across Sudan to work towards restoring peace and democracy amidst brutal conflict. “I’m so happy and so proud to stand here to receive this award on behalf of the real heroes—the youth, the young daughters and sons of the December 2018-19 revolution,” said Zahra Hayder, Waey Organization’s founder and executive director. “They are still working very hard to achieve our dream as Sudanese of freedom, peace, and justice.”

From left: Iryna Smolina, Valeriia Sydorova, Kateryna Rashevska, and Olha Tymchenko 

Kateryna Rashevska, who accepted the Democracy Award on behalf of the Regional Center for Human Rights, shared the organization’s work to hold Russian leaders accountable for the abduction of Ukrainian children from temporarily occupied territories. “My greatest hope is that this will be the last time when we should fight for the return of abducted children to Ukraine,” she said. “We must solve it once and for all.” Valeriia Sydorova, a Ukrainian teenager, told her powerful story of how she was forcibly transferred by Russian forces and pressured to move to Russia before escaping to Ukrainian-controlled territory.  

Lhadon Tethong and Dr. Gyal Lo accept the Democracy Award on behalf of the Tibet Action Institute

Lhadon Tethong, co-founder and director of Tibet Action Institute, which has documented the approximately one million Tibetan children forced into colonial boarding schools, called on world leaders to stand in solidarity for human rights. “Human rights, democracy, and freedom must be at the center of the solutions and strategies sought by the foreign policy community and our leaders,” Tethong said. “How do we do this? The answer lies with the people and those who’ve already spoken up and risked everything for these values.” 

The evening also included presentations of NED’s Democracy Service Medal to world leaders, including Evgenia Kara-Murza and Vladimir Kara-Murza, Sikyong Penpa Tsering, and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. American political leaders Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi were also honored with the Democracy Service Medal for their distinguished leadership and support of democracy advocates around the world. [Read more about the Democracy Service Medal.] 

Evgenia Kara-Murza accepts the Democracy Service Medal.

“I receive this very humbly on behalf of all the Tibetans inside Tibet and outside Tibet and on behalf of all my colleagues who are in Dharamshala,” said Sikyong Penpa Tsering, president of the Central Tibetan Administration. “Because democracy doesn’t happen because of one person. It happens because of everybody.” 

Evgenia Kara-Murza accepted two Democracy Service Medals for her husband, Vladimir, currently serving a 25-year sentence in Russian prison, and for her own advocacy on behalf of all Russian political prisoners.  She read a message written by Vladimir in prison: “A whole generation of Russians has grown up without knowing any other reality and in the Free World a whole generation has grown up thinking that that is what Russia is,” he wrote. “But that’s only half of the story. Because, despite a quarter century of Putinism, there is a different vision of Russia—more hopeful, more peaceful, more democratic.” 

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell accepts the Democracy Service Medal.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of democratic Belarus, also dedicated the medal to the millions of Belarusians whose freedom is currently being denied. “Dear friends, the path to freedom and democracy can be long and difficult,” she said. “But let’s walk this path together side by side.” 

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell spoke about the need for American leadership to stand up for freedom and democracy around the world. “I’m deeply grateful for this recognition but tonight is not a culmination, not for any of us,” said Leader McConnell. “For the remainder of my term in the Senate I’ll be every bit as focused on advancing the principles of American leadership, and I look forward to standing with each of you in that effort.” 

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi accepts the Democracy Service Medal, presented by fellow honoree Sikyong Penpa Tsering

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi spoke about the need to “shine a bright light on injustice.” She addressed the democracy advocates and leaders in the audience, saying, “As I look out at this room and all of you, I’m so impressed because I see people who care, who know, who are making a difference, each and every one of you. Know how special you are. Champions for democracy.” 

The event concluded with a special tribute to the people of Venezuela with a video message from Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado ahead of the country’s July presidential election and a musical performance by Saúl Vera and Jorge Glem.