The freedom to express oneself and impart information and ideas through any media are fundamental human rights. Freedom of the press is – alongside a strong civil society – an essential means of holding power to account and giving voice to the community.
Women human rights defenders have welcomed the Dutch government’s demand for an investigation into the murder of Libyan human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis.
At a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, the Netherlands demanded that Salwa’s murder be investigated and prosecuted. This is a remarkable step as such calls are usually reserved for the killings of present or former heads of government. This may be the first time that a member of the Security Council has demanded an investigation into the killing of a woman human rights defender.
Salwa Bugaighis was a leading figure in the Libyan revolution that overthrew the Gaddafi regime in 2011. A lawyer and human rights activist, Salwa had been among the first protestors outside the courthouse in Benghazi that sparked the uprising, and she was later elected to the country’s transitional administration. In an act that became symbolic of the country’s fall into chaos, Salwa was murdered by an armed gang as she returned home from voting in the general election in June 2014.
To date there has been no independent investigation into Salwa’s murder, or a number of similar crimes.
Activists who worked with Salwa have said that an international investigation and prosecution would be key steps to ending the culture of impunity in Libya. The country has been crippled by ongoing violence, with politically-motivated murders frequently going unpunished. Just weeks after Salwa’s murder former congresswoman Fariha Al Berkawi was gunned down in Derna. In 2015, young civil rights activist Intisar Al-Hasiri was murdered alongside her aunt in Tripoli.
The failure to properly prosecute high-profile killings and breakdown of the rule of law have prevented peace-building and political progress. Rallying under the slogan that “justice for Salwa is justice for all”, activists see the fresh calls for an investigation as a means of finally challenging the culture of impunity.
Zahra’ Langhi, co-founder with Salwa Bugaighis of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, said:
“Ever since the assassination of Salwa Bughaghis on the day of Parliamentary elections four years ago, the country has fallen into chaos, violence and deep divisions. With two governments claiming central power, a myriad of militias controlling different areas of the country, a culture of impunity dominating the scene, and the political process seems deadlocked.
“The international community has a role to play today by supporting Libya fulfilling its obligations to UN Security Council mandatory Resolutions 1970 & 2174. It has a duty to eliminate impunity, and to respect, protect, and fulfil its human rights obligations. The demand by the Netherlands at the security Council today to initiate an investigation in the assassination of Salwa sets the way forward for Libya. This investigation must be international and independent. There can be no way forward for Libya without establishing peace and Justice first.”
Shelby Quast, of Equality Now, said:
“Salwa represents the millions of women and human rights activists striving to promote equality and women’s rights, who are being threatened, harassed, brutally attacked or murdered, in increasingly lawless environments.
“We thank Minister Zijlstra for raising Salwa’s murder at the Security Council; this ongoing violence and lack of justice cannot be tolerated.
“Equality Now firmly stands behind the numerous calls for women and civil society’s active and full participation in promoting democracy and influencing legal reforms. However, without security for activists like Salwa, calls for women’s participation, inclusion and equality are empty. Security and justice for violence against women and girls must be at the center of the international agenda. It is imperative that we respond to the millions of victims of violence who are silenced and do not get the justice they deserve. Justice for Salwa is Justice for women and girls.“
Hibaaq Osman, a former colleague of Salwa Bugaighis and head of the women’s network Karama, said:
“Salwa Bugaighis was one of the most remarkable women I have ever known. Many people, myself included, believe she could have been the first democratically-elected president of Libya. Her murder was one the darkest days for human rights defenders in the Arab region and across the world.
“We thank Minister Halbe Zijlstra for raising Salwa’s murder at the Security Council, and members of the Dutch parliament for continuing to demand justice. We now ask that the International Criminal Court open a case into Salwa’s murder as part of its investigation into Libya.
“The lack of a serious investigation has heaped tragedy upon tragedy. When killers walk free, it is the innocent who live in fear. The culture of impunity in Libya has emboldened the worst elements in the country’s post-revolution society. If Salwa’s killers finally face justice, it will be an important step to ending impunity, and ushering in accountability for all of Libya.
“In this way we will finally be able to say that justice for Salwa is justice for all.”
The decision of the US government to move its embassy and recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a shattering blow to the peace process and to the dignity of Palestinians. We support our Palestinian partners and condemn the US administration’s decision unreservedly.
This announcement represents a serious and deeply harmful break from international precedents and UN resolutions. Its effects are only damaging to the interests of peace.
Palestinians have seen no movement in the peace process and no sign that the new US administration has any interest in being an honest broker. This decision confirms all their worst fears; it effectively signals the end of the US as a serious partner for peace in Palestine.
The continued occupation of Palestine is one of the great injustices of our time. It shames us all that Palestinians live under such violence and humiliation. This crass move by the US administration brings us no nearer to peace, but heaps yet more insult to injury to the people of Palestine. It is a decision that is everything to do with national US politics and nothing to do with peace in the region.
Now that the US has chosen a path of petty gesture diplomacy and insularity, we call on the remaining members of the international community to step up their efforts to bring an end to occupation, and peace to the region.
We are appalled that the United States has objected to the appointment of a UN special envoy based purely on the candidate’s nationality. The UN Secretary-General’s is right in his pledge to “recruit qualified individuals, respecting regional diversity”, to which we would add the need to reflect gender, ethnic and cultural diversity.
There are many legitimate questions about the credibility of the process for appointing mediators and envoys at the United Nations. It is however plainly wrong for a candidate to be disqualified based on irrelevant and politically-motivated matters.
The issues that desperately need to be addressed in the special envoy appointment process are the complete lack of transparency and accountability. It is crucial that parties engaged with mediation processes have confidence in UN envoys and missions. But decisions on the appointment of representatives – from special envoy level down – continue to be taken behind closed doors, without consultation with the parties involved.
This has led to a succession of men appointed as special envoys, and disproportionately white, European men. The recent Global Study on UNSCR 1325 made a clear recommendation that there should be more women appointed to these roles. We believe that transparent appointments based on principles of quality and equality would yield greater diversity, as well as more confidence in mediation processes.
The UN currently has special envoys and political missions focused on three Arab countries, Libya, Syria and Yemen. We should be in a position where these envoys and missions have the trust, respect and support of all parties throughout their mandates. Appointments need to be made with far wider consultation than is currently the case. As women in the Arab region, there should be nothing about us without us.
– The Arab Regional Network on Women, Peace and Security
Women from across Syrian society met in Beirut this week to discuss the role women must play in building a peaceful future for Syria. The event was organised by the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace, which brought the group of 22 women from different political, religious and social backgrounds together for the two-day workshop.
The event took Martin Luther King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech as its inspiration, asking participants to consider their own hopes and aspirations for the future of their country. All the women taking part have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria, with representatives coming from Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Deir ez-Zor and Hasaka. The group used a variety of interactive methods, including role playing and storytelling, to exchange experiences and build a picture of how women can be better prepared for greater participation in public life.
While the destruction the war has caused across Syria has been well-publicised, the workshop highlighted the damage it has done more deeply to Syrian society. Despite these divisions, the participants hoped that the workshop would send a positive message that women from across Syria’s political, religious and ethnic divides could still come together to unify their vision for the future of Syria.
The participants were particularly keen to discuss how women could become more involved not just in politics, but in public life more generally. While the group did include politically and socially active participants and NGO leaders, it was also attended by professionals, academics and representatives from the private sector who were not politically aligned or involved in community leadership. The whole group discussed what was necessary for Syrian politics and public life to become more inclusive and gender-sensitive.
Facilitated by Dr Mouna Ghanem and Dr Hisham Kiyat and supported by regional NGO Karama, the discussion was also concerned with how politics could be more inclusive of the marginalised and harder to reach sections of Syrian society. Participants agreed that that there was much needed to follow-up on from the workshop, with capacity-building and training sessions high on the agenda.
Dr Mouna Ghanem, founder of the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace and co-facilitator of the workshop, said:
“If we are to build a peaceful future for Syria, women will need to play a leading role. This workshop has provided us with an opportunity to understand how that can happen. The war has not only devastated our country, but it has debased our political discourse. Fixing this will be no easier than rebuilding our cities, but as the workshop shows, dialogue is still possible across political, religious and social lines. We are still all Syrian women, we want a Syrian agenda for women’s participation.
“Our discussions have shown how that might be possible. Central to this will be building a critical mass of women’s participation across Syrian society. Women’s empowerment will not come through women being represented here and there, but through women in leadership roles across the board.”
Hibaaq Osman, CEO and founder of Karama, which supported the workshop said:
“This workshop demonstrates that women experiencing the appalling conflict can come together for a better Syria. These women have seen the devastating effect of the war. The women and children of Syria are paying the highest price for this conflict. They have come together from different religious backgrounds, different communities, across the political spectrum to talk about their hopes and aspirations for Syria. That should serve as an inspiration for the powers within Syria and the international community to come together to bring about peace in the country. These women and many more within and without Syria need the support of the international community now more than ever.”
Leading Middle East and North Africa women’s rights NGO Karama has announced the launch of their European branch. Based in Cairo, the Karama network is the main platform for women’s rights organisations in the Arab region, from Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan to Morocco, it operates across thirteen countries. Karama Europe will be headed by Elisabeth van der Steenhoven, formerly the director of Europe’s largest network of women’s rights groups.
Karama Europe is based in Brussels and supports Karama’s core aims of greater participation of women in the Arab region, and providing support for women facing conflict. The European office will function as a regional hub, liaising with the EU, its member states, institutions as well as activists across the Europe.
Hibaaq Osman, CEO of Karama said:
“We are delighted to announce the launch of Karama Europe, and there is no one better suited to leading it than Elisabeth van der Steenhoven. Elisabeth has worked with us very closely for 5 years, through extraordinary times for women in the Arab region. During this time, Karama and Elisabeth have have helped women working on the ground in Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and many other countries secure positive change. The only way to build sustainable and resilient change is by working at a grassroots level, Elisabeth has a proven track record in the Arab region and Karama Europe is the next step in this relationship.”
Elisabeth van der Steenhoven has worked closely with women’s networks in the Arab region and across the world throughout her career, most recently as director of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform. Under her guidance the platforms’s membership doubled it and co-cordinated the Dutch National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security. The platform launched innovative links with a broad array of actors, varying from development NGOs to entrepreneurs, academics, peace activists, military, migrants, police and human rights networks. By the same token, the network successfully supported the first Parliamentary Multi-Party Initiative on women’s rights; uniting as many as nine political parties from right to left.
Elisabeth van der Steenhoven said:
“I am very honoured to join the Karama network and lead the European hub. We have witnessed the decentralization of western NGOs and institutions, seeing them move from North to South, it is very exciting to pioneer the other way round. Women in the Arab region play a crucial role in the struggle for democracy and stability, let’s make sure their voices are being heard”.
Zahra’ Langhi, co-founder of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace and an advisor to the Preparatory Committee of the National Dialogue in Libya, said:
“I’m very happy to hear of the launch of Karama Europe, which will be led by Elisabeth van der Steenhoven. Elisabeth is known for her passion and genuine belief in the causes for which she advocates. Having worked closely with Elisabeth on several projects, I observed her relentless determination to bring voice and visibility to women in our region. Her nuanced understanding of the challenges facing women on the frontline renders her an invaluable expertise.”
Mouna Ghanem, Vice President of the Syrian political movement Building the Syrian State and a member of the Women’s Advisory Board to the UN Special Envoy on Syria, said:
“Elisabeth is someone who can transform activists into strong politicians, support them and even protect them if necessary. I’m lucky to know Elisabeth and to have worked with her; she and Karama have already done a great deal for women, and between us we can make the politics of the world a gender sensitive politics, and have a more peaceful world.”