Not as widely known as it deserves to be which is notable for its accomplishments and creative approach, is a human rights civil society organisation, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med Monitor). It was inspired 11 years ago by the oppressive conditions existing in the Palestinian territory, and founded and led by Ramy Abdu, then a resident of the UK with a doctoral degree in law and finance.
From the beginning its dedication to the promotion of human rights spread beyond the borders of Occupied Palestine, and Euro-Med Monitor now has offices or representatives in 17 countries in Europe and the MENA region, with headquarters in Geneva. In this short interval Euro-Med Monitor has developed a strong reputation for political independence, staff dedication, and most of all for its distinctive way of operating.
First of all, Euro-Med Monitor is youth-oriented and much of its work is done by volunteers who learn by doing and working as teams with more experienced defenders of human rights, and has foregone major fundraising efforts, preferring to move forward with a small budget offset by big ideas and motivated by the widespread wrongdoing of governments throughout MENA. Perhaps, one the most innovative features of Euro-Med Monitor is its stress on empowering victims of abuse to tell their stories to the world in their own voices. A recent example was the testimony at the Human Rights Council in Geneva of Suhaila al-Masri, the grandmother of Fatima al-Masri, who told the heart-rending story of how her 20-month-old granddaughter died of suffocation because her exit permit from Gaza to receive emergency treatment was delayed without reason.
Euro-Med Monitor prides itself by working with victims to recover their sense of worth in a variety of struggles against the abuses they endured in the hope of avoiding similar suffering by others. In this innovative sense the empowerment of victims is complemented by establishing sites for training young human rights defenders to go on to have a variety of societal roles as they older.
Another example of this empowerment ethos practiced by Euro-Med Monitor involves a 22-yearr old Palestinian woman, Zainab al-Qolaq, who lost 22 members of her family in an air attack that destroyed her home in Gaza a few year ago. Zainab herself miraculously survived despite being buried in rubble from the attack for 20 hours. Euro-Med Monitor encouraged Zainab to write her story, but writing did not come easily to her, but it was discovered that she was a natural artist. Not only could she draw but she could depict a range of emotions, especially of torment and loss, that derived from her tragic encounter with the mass death of her family members. In what was a dramatic success story, Zainab al-Qolaq became a human rights activist, even holding gallery exhibitions of her work sponsored by Euro-Med Monitor and UN Women Palestine, but also in Geneva, even in the United States, evoking media enthusiasm.
At this time, Euro-Med Monitor feels its special identity is solidified by having 70% of its active staff either drawn from youth or from the ranks of victimization. The organisation reaches out beyond victims of war and torture to more subtle forms of encroachment on human dignity such as prolonged refugee status or mistreatment of women. An instructive example is the encouragement of the formation of a Gaza initiative with the assertive name, We Are Not Numbers, suggesting human rights is about self-preservation of human identity under circumstances of pervasive oppression of which Gaza is the most vivid instance, but by no means the only site of such struggles within the MENA region.
Among the topic covered in recent reports are the targeting of journalists in Sudan, disguised and punitive racism toward MENA asylum seekers and immigrants from MENA, human displacement in Yemen, interferences with the freedom and safety of journalists in various countries within their scope of concern.
Euro-Med Monitor uses a network of 300 writers to tell the stories of those who have been abused when the victims themselves are not available. The overall Euro-Med Monitor undertaking seeks to convey the issues of concern in different countries by employing what Ramy Abdu calls ‘the real discourse of the people.’
With its headquarters in Geneva, Euro-Med Monitor is particularly active in the formal proceedings and side events associated with the Human Rights Council. It has mounted actions and testimony on such matters as opposition to EU surveillance of asylum seekers in Europe, arms exports to Yemen, and the rescue of persons who have been coercively disappeared in Yemen and Syria.
In my judgment, Euro-Med is creating a new and exciting model for how to connect civil society activism with effective efforts to improve the overall protection of human rights.
It is a young organisation, but one with incredible promise, and a record to admire and emulate.