) wrote in the Huffington Post of 31 March 2017 under the title “The world’s human rights movement would look very different ‘if it weren’t for women’” a piece that highlights women human rights defenders in the context of the Movies That Matter Film Festival which took place in the Netherlands earlier this year [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/15/movies-that-matter-film-festival-in-the-hague-from-24-march-to-1-april-2017/]. Movies that Matter, the Amnesty International film festival celebrated nine human rights defenders and screened films that share their powerful stories. Here some of these defenders:
E.g. human rights lawyer Nadezhda Kutepova, featured in the film City 40 by Samira Goetschel, is one of them. Kutepova was accused of espionage and plotting against Russia’s nuclear industry for exposing a secret city in Russia that houses the country’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and is one of the most contaminated places on earth. The Ozyorsk area was poisoned after a nuclear storage facility exploded in 1957. She fought for people impacted by the disaster to get medical treatments and benefits. After a state-backed television station accused her of treason last April, Kutepova fled the country with her four children and was granted asylum in France.
Leyla Imret is also escaping persecution. She’s living in hiding and was the only human rights defender unable to attend the film festival. Even Asli Ozarslan, the director of Dil Leyla, doesn’t know where she is. Imret, a Kurd, became the youngest mayor in Turkey in 2014. She was 27 and had recently returned to her native village Cizre. According to Amnesty International, human rights abuses committed by government security forces are increasing with impunity in Turkey especially in the predominantly Kurdish southeast along the Syrian border where Cizre is located. Imret’s father, a Kurdish fighter, was killed there when she was a child. Twenty years later she risks her father’s fate as she is forced into hiding after the Turkish government accuses her of “terror propaganda.”
Anti-terrorism activist Saliha Ben Ali story is told in the documentary The Empty Room. Ben Ali was devastated when her 19-year-old son disappeared from their home in Belgium to join 6,500 Europeans waging jihad in Syria. Within the year, he was killed. “When can I start grieving?” she asked. “Never,” is her heartbreaking answer. What she does instead is to spearhead a national campaign to keep Islamic State recruiters from luring other young men—Muslim and non-Muslim—into radicalization. Holding a small statue topped with a flying golden butterfly, Ben Ali accepted the festival’s highest honor, the Matter of Act Human Rights Award. In her remarks, she thanked director Jasna Krajinovic for giving her family a chance to “speak out and explain our suffering.” “We are suffering each day,” she said, “but we can’t show our suffering because we are considered — even today — just like parents of a terrorist.”
Shifa al-Qudsi knows it’s possible to be saved from a life of radicalization and shares with Ben Ali a strong sense of motherhood that inspires her work. Featured in the film Disturbing the Peace by Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young, al-Qudsi, a Palestinian, explains to her daughter that she is going to blow herself up in an attempt to kill as many Israelis as possible. Arrested before she can carry out the suicide bombing, al-Qudsi was sent to jail where she met another mother, an Israeli guard whose son was recently killed in a suicide attack. The simple kindness the guard showed her became the catalyst for her to find common ground with those she once believed were “the enemy.”
Razia Jan, the protagonist in my film What Tomorrow Brings, said brutal attacks against women and girls create a state of terror in the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s female population. She believes this fear leaves girls scarred emotionally. “They are treated like they don’t matter, so they believe they don’t matter,” Jan told an audience at a special screening for teachers. At the girls’ school she founded in 2008, Jan is teaching a counter-narrative. “My goal is for the students to realize that they are special. Every single girl is special, unique, precious. She has so much to offer this world.” Amnesty International says human rights defenders like Jan face a range of violence daily in Afghanistan where gender equality is far from being realized. Women are subordinate legally, socially and politically. Despite the environment in which she works, Jan has a lot to celebrate this week. Her Zabuli Education Center — a K-12 girls’ school — welcomed students to the first day of classes for the tenth year in a row. Next door, Jan’s new midwife college opened its doors for the first time.
The article on which this post is based first appeared on The GroundTruth Project.