Activist Sonia Pierre Receives RFK Award

The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 1:38 PM

WASHINGTON -- A woman raised in a migrant worker camp who has fought discrimination against poor Dominicans of Haitian descent received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award on Friday.

Sonia Pierre's activism began three decades ago at the age of 13 when she was arrested for leading a march to demand rights for sugar cane cutters. More recently her group has battled to secure education and citizenship for ethnic Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

"I find inspiration in the life of Mr. Kennedy because I believe that our efforts and his are part of the same fight for equality and justice," she said during the awards ceremony on Capitol Hill.

Pierre, one of 12 children raised in a one-room portion of a dirt-floor barrack, was praised as a fearless and big-hearted advocate for an oppressed minority in the Caribbean nation.

"With certitude, I can affirm that Sonia is one of the most selfless, courageous and compassionate human beings of my generation," said Kennedy's brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "Sonia is very near the top of my list of heroines."

An estimated 500,000 to 1 million ethnic Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, many in isolated village slums.

Haitians fleeing poverty provide cheap labor for the Dominican economy, particularly during the sugar cane harvest, Kennedy noted. Many face abuse, harsh living conditions and the constant threat of deportation, he said.

"Because of Sonia, this neglected, impoverished, downtrodden community has greater rights and greater hope for a future where equality and justice are not just ideas, but reality," the senator said.

Pierre is the 23rd recipient of the award given in honor of the former senator, U.S. attorney general and presidential candidate who was assassinated in 1968.


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