Posts Tagged ‘portrait’

Elsa Saade talks about her work for “Gulf Centre for Human Rights”

July 28, 2015

On 26 June 2015 the ISHR (International service for Human Rights) featured a portrait of Elsa Saade, a woman human rights defender who works for the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), an independent, non-profit and non-governmental organisation that works to provide support and protection to human rights defenders in the Gulf region by promoting freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Elsa, who has worked closely on the issue of women human rights defenders in the Gulf and neighboring countries, explained how women human rights defenders are at particular risk. E.g. she  received a message from a women defender stating that she could no longer talk, that she was going underground. ‘They are threatening to kill me’, she said. ‘They will arrest me. I need to disappear.’ Elsa confirmed that she could not mention the defender’s name or where she is from as it would endanger her life, however highlighted how women not only face pressures from the government or non-state actors when she stands up for human rights, but even faces societal and cultural clashes which could be reflected inside her home.

Elsa explained how States in the Gulf region are mostly patriarchal. The simplest example of patriarchy is the fact that women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive. Two women defenders in Saudi Arabia, Maysaa Al Amoudy and Lujain Al-Hathlol, who were caught driving as a statement to allow women to drive, were arrested and tried in the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which deals with cases of terrorism and State security. They currently await sentencing.

Elsa referred to the situation in Iran, KSA, and Syria, which she considers is especially bad. ‘If we hadn’t publicised certain cases, some of our human rights defenders would already be dead. If no-one knew their names, the government wouldn’t consider them, as if they didn’t exist. Those who exercise their right to freedom of expression face death threats, flogging and indefinite prison sentences.’..‘Some defenders fall silent but others gain confidence when bad things happen – it confirms the need to struggle for their rights. Although the conditions are depressing, it is inspiring to see how tragedies motivate women to raise their voice. Out of their misery they create something beautiful.’

At this point, Elsa further referred to cases of women Syrian refugees in Lebanon and how important their role in the house, family and society was. On that account she mentioned several challenges that humanitarian people who help Syrian refugees face. Having worked in the field she highlights that they are often at risk.

As a result of my work I have personally experienced challenges. I was put in a situation were I could have been beaten several times, just because I was helping the Syrian refugees.’ As a woman, and especially after having widened the scope of interest in the region’s several HRD cases, Elsa has begun to feel increasingly vulnerable. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk. In Lebanon the situation is not so bad for women. But on a recent trip to Egypt I felt incredibly paranoid. I was on the constant look out. That is why so many women defenders prefer to stay on the low.’

Elsa is adamant, however, on the necessity of continuing her work to support human rights defenders.

Without human rights defenders, the reality would remain hidden. There is a clash between three concepts: reality, delusion and myth. You have the myth, the image that the State wants to portray; the delusion, as people keep quiet to put bread on the table; and the reality on the ground. Human rights defenders, be they journalists, bloggers, lawyers, teachers or women defenders, portray this reality. They are the ones who ask for accountability, for independent judges, for basic human rights.’

[The Gulf Centre supports and protects human rights defenders in different ways to eventually create a community of strong and safe human rights defenders protected by international mechanisms. Firstly, it can mobilise a network of prominent human rights defenders to generate support amongst each other. Secondly, it runs UN advocacy projects and provides funding and technical assistance for HRDs to attend UN meetings. Thirdly, it allocates private funding for relocation, personal finance, appeals, and assisting with the provision of safe havens in case they are in danger. Fourthly, it runs training workshops on various issues HRDs are in need of and specifically on how to engage with UN mechanisms and protection mechanisms.]

For previous posts on the Gulf center:


Elsa Saade: Human rights defender from the Gulf Centre for Human Rights | ISHR.

Human rights defender Khalef Khalifa from Kenya in the spotlight

July 9, 2015

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped in its July 2015 Newsletter puts the spotlight on Khalef Khalifa, Executive Director of the NGO MUHURI in Kenya.


On 8 April 2015, the official Gazette notice listed 85 companies and organisations, including MUHURI and Haki Africa, as suspected of having links to terrorism and linking them as specified entities. On 20 and 21 April, the police raided the offices of both organizations, disabling their servers, carrying away hard disks and documents, allegedly to determine whether they had been involved in tax evasion. On 28 May, the Non-Governmental Organisations’ Coordination Board announced through the media that they had de-registered the organizations. On 12 June the court dismissed all charges against MUHURI and Haki Africa on the basis that there was no evidence against them.

Khalef Khalifa (KK): As you know, on the 12th June was a good day for us as both MUHURI and Haki Africa, were entirely vindicated in court. The judge dismissed all the charges against us and said that there was absolutely no evidence to link us to terrorism in any form and specifically forbade the police or even the Minister to make any such reference in the future. However the outstanding difficulty is that he refused to unfreeze our bank accounts on the basis that we had failed to include the Central Bank in our case against the state. They have now agreed to join our case calling for the accounts to be freed but we have to wait for another hearing before the judge makes his ruling and we can begin getting back to normal.

FLD: Given the various lines of attack that were opened against MUHURI it seems as though the government was out to get you?

KK: ...we were targeted on three fronts: by the police, the Revenue Commissioners and by the NGO Board. So while the government accused us of terrorism, the Revenue Commissioners descended on our office and took away all out financial documentation to look for evidence of tax avoidance and the NGO Board lodged a complaint that we had not kept them properly informed of our activities, and in particular that we had not informed them of new appointments to our board, as required by the NGO Law. In the final verdict, while the judge said there was no evidence of involvement in terrorism, both the Revenue Commissioners and the NGO Board had to concede that we were 100% compliant with the regulations. The only thing the NGO Board could trip us up on was that while we had notified the NGO Board of the new appointments, we had not used the appropriate, and newly introduced, form. What is interesting is that in the early stages of the case the government was totally focused on pursuing a case on the basis of terrorism, but they quite quickly changed tack and started looking for any small technical failures they could find to try and make a case against us. But they failed because we have always operated in an entirely open and transparent way.

KK: The real reason for their animus against MUHURI is that we are critical of the police and have investigated their involvement in extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances. There have been at least 52 such killings and disappearances in the Mombasa region in the last two years. The police claim to be fighting terror but in fact terror is a more accurate description of the way the police themselves work. In one incident 8 people were shot dead in a church. The police claimed that it was an attack by Al Shabaab. However when the perpetrators were arrested it was clear that they were not Muslims and in fact had no affiliation to any particular group. The police then hid the names and tried to maintain the fiction of an Al Shabaab attack.

FLD: Will the work of MUHURI get back to normal now?

KK: ...As soon as the accounts are unfrozen we will continue out work as normal. For us it is clear that the government wants to intimidate and frighten MUHURI but we will not be intimidated – we will not give up.

for full interview see: HRD Spotlight: Khalef Khalifa, Kenya | Front Line Defenders.

The more general backdrop can be found in earlier Front Line messages, the 5 June appeal by the Observatory [] and the statements made by NGOs on 26 June 2015 at the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of the report of the Universal Periodic Review [UPR] of Kenya:

– International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) : Kenya should create an enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders – including repealing restrictions on NGO access to foreign funding and amending or repealing the Information Communication Amendment Bill and Media Council Bill. The statement also emphasised the risks faced by LGBTI people and organisations in Kenya as a result of the criminalisation of same-sex conduct. ‘It is crucial that the voices of human rights defenders are safeguarded and encouraged. This assists to create a vibrant, independent and diverse civil society which is essential to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law’ said Michael Ineichen of ISHR. reports on Human Rights Watch comments: “We note Kenya’s acceptance of some important recommendations such as commitments to investigate torture and extrajudicial killings, including the killing of activist Hassan Guyo, and to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court. But we remain concerned that there has been little tangible progress in many key areas. The ongoing abuses and recent threats to civil society illustrate a lack of commitment to implement these recommendations.


Mutabar far from her Uzbekistan continues her struggle

March 27, 2015

Today , 27 March 2015, the FIDH published a moving portrait of Mutabar Tadjibaeva, the well-known Uzbek human rights defender, under the title “If I were told that I only have one day left to live, I would spend it fighting for human rights.” A statement that in her case is not an exaggeration!

mutabar in berlin zoo Duco oct 2008

“If I were told that I only have one day left to live, I would spend it fighting for human rights,” says Mutabar Tadjibaeva, President of the organization Fiery Hearts Club. The 52-year-old Uzbek journalist and activist arrived in France in 2009 as a political refugee. She is no longer welcome In her native country, which has been governed for a quarter of a century by the dictator Islam Karimov. In Uzbekistan, Mutabar investigated drug trafficking, corruption and human rights violations. She endured threats, prison, torture and rape; her fight came at a high price.

In 2002, while this activist was fighting to make publicly known the case of Alimuhammad Mamadaliev, who had been tortured and killed by the police, she herself ended up behind bars for several days. In April 2005, was kidnapped by secret service agents and subjected to horrific treatment. These men would never worried about having to answer for their deeds. But even in the face of such injustice, Mutabar Tadjibaeva continued her activism and journalism until she was imprisoned three years later, on 7 October 2005, just before boarding a plane headed for Dublin where she was to participate in an international conference on human rights. She was arrested by police and, a year later, sentenced to eight years in prison, where she was subjected to torture. She was accused of engaging in illegal activities against the State during demonstrations where several hundred people had lost their lives in May 2005 in Andijan, an industrial city. It is clear to Mutabar that her arrest was for purely political reasons. She was one of many victims of State repression that followed the events of 2005.

“I know very well what prison in Uzbekistan is like and the torture. That is why I have decided to devote me life to fighting for human rights. When I was in jail, I dreamt that one day I would be free. I would tell the prison guards that I would get out of there and write a book on what I had lived through,” she recalls. On 18 May 2008, while still in prison, she was granted the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders. She was released a few months later and, on 10 December of that same year, Mutabar Tadjibaeva came to Paris where she accepted the Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité Award on behalf of the Fiery Hearts Club. Banned from Uzbekistan for almost ten years, the organisation took shelter in France in 2011. It will celebrate the 15th year of its existence this year. Every day, dozens of people come to her in search of assistance. She seeks out lawyers and funding, prepares reports and files individual complaints to the UN. Despite the modest means at her disposal and a state of health weakened by the torture she suffered, Mutabar wants to help those who are in same situation as she was in ten years earlier. Her wish is that human rights defenders take more of an interest in the situation in Uzbekistan. Mutabar Tadjibaeva has enjoyed the support of FIDH, and her organisation is now officially a member. “It is thanks to the support of the FIDH that I was able to keep my promise, that is, write my book entitled “Prisoner of the Island of Torture.” I worked with an Uzbek journalist and it is thanks to those recordings that I was able to tell my story. Otherwise, it would have been too hard psychologically,” Mutabar recalls. In the book, which has been published in Uzbek, Russian, French, and English, she shares her memories of prison and decries the cruelty of the regime.

For Mutabar, the challenge lies not in Karimov’s departure, but in regime change. “His departure could set off a war among the clans. The country is corrupt, there is no respect for the law. Karimov the dictator is not the only one to blame for the fact that people are being killed in prisons and tortured; the politicians who support the regime are also to blame. I want Uzbekistan to become a democratic country and dissidents like me to be able to return there and live,” she said. However, as Mutabar sees it, a return to her country is not within the realm of the possible.

On 29 March, Islam Karimov will be running for President for the fourth time, thereby violating Article 90 of the Constitution, which does not allow more than two terms. Mutabar Tadjibaeva and her friends have set up a virtual electoral commission to organise a vote on the Internet. This alternative platform has rejected the candidacy of the president.
“When I decided to come to France as a political refugee,” she concluded, “I was afraid that I would not be able to do anything for my country remotely. But, now I see that if you are motivated and supported, anything is possible.”

“If I were told that I only have one day left to live, I would (…).


for more on Mutabar, see:

And a lot more about Werner Lottje: the great German human rights defender

November 16, 2013

In the presence of the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the MEA Laureates of 2013: the Joint Mobile Group, the family of Werner Lottje (his wife Margit and the children) and some 90 other participants we had on 13 November 2013 the first WERNER LOTTJE LECTURE in Berlin. It was an impressive affair and the organisers, Bread for the World and the German Institute for Human Rights, can look back on a successful launch of this annual event. There were many good tributes to Werner’s life and contribution. Igor Kalyapin of the JMG explained the terrible conditions under which his team has to operate in Russia and Margaret Sekaggya concluded with a wide-ranging overview of obstacles that HRDs all over the world face. A short, impressive film brought the person of Werner to life.

Here I am providing you the full text my own speech on this occasion, not only because I have it handy but because it concerns mostly the international part of his work:

Thinking outside the box – Werner Lottje as an international networker”

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Al-Hassani, MEA 2010 Laureate on You Tube and reaction by the EU

October 21, 2010

The portrait of the 2010 MEA Laureate Muhannad Al-Hassani (duration approximately 15 mn) can now be found on:
VIMEO: as well as YouTube (where it had to be in 2 parts) PART 1 and PART 2.
It was made by True Heroes, Films for Human Rights Defenders.
There is also a strongly worded EU statement that can be found on: (in Arabic)  and (in English)

Please pass on this information to those who need to know