West Bank & Gaza
Wednesday 22-02-2017 – Ramallah and Gaza: MUSAWA – The Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession launched the first international conference for Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Palestine, in cooperation with the Palestinian Human Rights Defenders’ Network (PHRDs), supported by the European Union (EU). The conference was facilitated via video conference at the hall of the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
The conference, titled “Empowering, Protecting and Activating the Role of Human Rights Defenders”, attracted around 450 male and female participants in the West Bank and Gaza, aiming at empowering HRDs in Palestine while shedding light on the mechanisms available to ensure further protection and enhancement for Palestinian HRDs at the national as well as the international level.
The conference began with welcome notes from the PHRDs’ Network, Bar Association, Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Press House-Palestine, EU Representative Office, and MUSAWA. In his speech, Vice-Chairman of the Bar, Adv. Hatem Shaheen, said that “in Palestine, it is particularly important to respect human rights, promote the culture of freedom of expression and reinforce the steadfastness of Palestinian citizens, as they suffer from the worst kind of occupation”.
In his turn, ICHR representative Mr. Mousa Abu-Edheim emphasized that “it is highly essential for legal and human rights institutions to take the rights guaranteed by the UN for all peoples and individuals as the starting point for standing up to the occupation’s discriminatory policies”.
This was followed by a short video about the PHRDs’ Network. The conference agenda covered three panels, each of which was followed by a Q&A session. The panels were facilitated by lawyers and legal advisors, in addition to two members of MUSAWA’s staff.
In the first panel, “The Role and Impact of the PHRDs’ Network”, MUSAWA’s Legal and Technical Adviser, Adv. Ibrahim Barghouthi, discussed the important role the PHRDs’ Network plays in Palestine. Then, two active members of the PHRDs’ Network in the West Bank and Gaza presented their vision, achievements, challenges and ambitions. The session also included EU Programme Manager, Laura Mascagna, who pointed out the EU guidelines and measures for the protection of HRDs.
The second panel, “The Status of PHRDs in International Legislation: Theory vs. Reality”, started with Sahar Francis from Addameer, who brought case studies in reference to the main violations that HRDs face whether by Israeli Occupation Forces or the PA, with specific focus on detention, movement restrictions, administrative detention policies and forced displacement, as well as the legal interventions possible in such cases. The floor was then given to OHCHR Legal Unit Director, Janique Thoele, who talked about international legal tools and mechanisms for protecting HRDs through the Human Rights Council, and their compliance with international treaties and standards.
Closing the session, Head of HRDs Global Team Amnesty International, Guadalupe Marengo, spoke about Amnesty’s role in the current global context for documentation and advocacy and its forthcoming campaign for the recognition and protection of HRDs. Ms. Marengo concluded her speech by expressing her pleasure for having taken part in the first conference of the PHRDs’ Network. “Working together against the injustices faced in this context is a must,” she added.
In the third panel, “Tools and Requirements for the Empowerment of PHRDs”, the Board Chairman of the National Society for Democracy and Law, Mr. Ibrahim Muaamar, made reference to the Palestinian Human Rights Defenders Declaration (PHRDD) as part of the policies and procedures which should be adopted to guarantee legal protection for HRDs. Then, a representative of Privacy International, Alexandrine Pirlot De Cornion, addressed the right to privacy and its relation to the work of HRDs: “Protecting Rights, Protecting People”. She stressed that digital rights, with emphasis on the right to privacy, which are now part of the internationally recognized human rights require mobilization from HRDs as well as Civil Society Organization. The panel was closed with a discussion on international lobbying and advocacy as part of the human rights discourse, raised by Falastine Dweikat, a Campaigner at Avaaz.
Amnesty International’s representative emphasized the essential role HRDs play in any society by urging all duty bearers in this context to recognise, legitimise and protect HRDs as stated in the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which was adopted by consensus.
Furthermore, the office of the EU encouraged Palestinian HRDs to take outreach initiatives to expose to the local donors’ community and to the general public the local human rights situation. On their part, the OHCHR urged the attendees and HRDs all over Palestine to take the Human Rights Council as a platform for the improvement and protection of HRDs in Palestine.
The conference was closed with an intervention by Ms. Dweikat, asking HRDs to benefit from international organizations not only in terms of funding, but also through seeking real political stances towards enhancing the status of HRDs in Palestine.
Moreover, MUSAWA and the PHRDs’ Network highlighted the vitality of endorsing the PHRDD by international stakeholders and the Palestinian official authorities so as to ensure the promotion of HRDs in Palestine, in addition to recognizing the Network as an umbrella for social movement and enabling its members of fulfilling their duties without any obstruction, and holding accountable anyone responsible of prejudicing their rights or hindering their work.