Missing In Action — Where Was The U.S. Women’s Movement On Justice For Nabra Hassanen?

Some time ago I attended a meeting of women’s rights activists from across the Arab region. We were in Cairo to discuss the great threats that women faced at the time ― the murder of human rights activists in Libya, the escalating war in Syria, the growing threat of a full-scale civil war in Yemen, as well as the violence and discrimination that women face in everyday life.

During lunch, our discussion turned to the growing protests against police violence in the U.S. As women who had grown up under dictators, who had been mistreated, victimized by the authorities, who faced daily suspicion and discrimination, we could recognize ourselves in the protesters. As activists, we wanted to show our solidarity with those demanding justice for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, and countless other victims of police violence in the U.S. We made our own placards declaring #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter, and posed for photos to share on social media.

I was reminded of that moment last week after the brutal murder of Nabra Hassanen, killed as she walked home from her Mosque in Virginia. Here was another face we recognised. A young, Egyptian-American woman whose life was ended by an appalling act of male violence. Having worked with many activists in the women’s movement in the U.S., I had hoped to see them express their solidarity with Nabra, but I waited in vain.

My work has always involved reaching across communities, across borders. It has been about building movements whose strength comes from diversity and credibility. Working with women’s movements in Europe, in the U.S., everywhere we could find allies, has always been part of our method. Through this approach groups in the Arab region have collaborated on important work with American partners aimed at ending violence against women. These partnerships have always been appreciated.

But just as we value the efforts made by the women’s movement in the U.S. to eliminate violence against women in the Arab region by, for example, tackling FGM, we also notice their silence when a Muslim woman is murdered on their own doorstep.

I have been proud to serve as an advisor to women’s groups across the world, and to recommend women experts from my region when American activists have sought to understand the problems that we face, and build responses based on local experience. Representation is central to dealing with the particular issues facing communities. Giving women a platform to discuss their problems is far more effective than thinking you can speak on their behalf.


If an organization has concerned itself with the rights of women in majority Muslim countries but ignored the rights, dignity and safety of Muslim women in their own backyard, we have to ask why that is. It would be harder, if not impossible, for these crimes to go unremarked if women from minority and marginalised communities were sufficiently represented within the ranks of these organisations.

The women’s movement in the U.S. has recently seen a huge boost in energy and activism. Millions took to the streets across the country as part of the Women’s March. There is a moment to be grasped here, to recognize the assault on the rights and freedoms of women in the U.S. In order to seize the opportunity, the movement needs to reflect the experience of all women. Much has been said about the panel of white men in the Senate conspiring behind closed doors to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, but far fewer people have recognized and reported that the reinstated ban on refugees will disproportionately affect women.

The Women’s March, Black Lives Matter and the unrelenting racism and misogyny of the Trump administration have hugely energised women of colour. The established women’s movement needs to recognise this. If the old guard does not welcome these activists into the fold and start addressing the intersectional relationship between all forms of discrimination, they risk becoming irrelevant to millions of women.

Women’s groups in the U.S. have been great allies for the women’s movement in the Arab region, but that support for ending violence against Muslim women cannot stop at the border. Where were your calls for justice for Nabra Hassanen?


We remember Salwa Bugaighis and demand protection for human rights defenders

Salwa had a dream, similar to the men and women of her people of Libya, she wanted the Libyans to enjoy freedom and peace and wanted to see a Libya where human rights are respected.

This weekend we pay tribute to the life of Libyan human rights defender Salwa Bugaighis. A lawyer, politician and activist, Salwa was a key figure in Libya’s recent history, first in the Benghazi protests that led to the revolution and then in the early stages of democratization.

In an act that became symbolic of Libya’s faltering transition and fall into chaos, Salwa was assassinated on 25 June 2014, having returned home from casting her vote in the general election. Weeks later, former member of parliament Fariha al-Barkawi was also assassinated by gunmen, and the murder of civil society activist Intisar Al-Hasiri followed soon after.

In the three years that have followed no one has been prosecuted for the murders of Salwa, Fariha and Intisar. The prospect of peaceful, just and democratic Libya seems ever more distant.

Compelling, credible, and firmly rooted in the community they sought to change, Salwa, Fariha, Intisar and activists like them are the greatest hope the world has for peace and justice. When killers and criminals can harass, attack and even murder human rights defenders with impunity, there is no justice, no peace, no democracy.

The international community has a duty to protect human rights defenders.

Violent groups silenced the voices of Salwa, Fariha, Intisar and many more brave human rights defenders across the world. But they cannot silence their message of hope, nor erase the example they have left for the activists they continue to inspire.

We call on governments and civil society to push for strong, independent investigation after every attack and murder committed against human rights defenders.

We ask UN member states to support the investigation of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor into crimes in Libya since 2011. This investigation must include acts of political violence.

We seek justice for Salwa, Fariha, Intisar and all human rights defenders who have been victims of violence; justice for human rights defenders is justice for all.


  • The Arab Regional Network for Women, Peace and Security

ونحن نسعى إلى تحقيق العدالة سلوى #JUSTICEFORSALWA

Salwa had a dream, similar to the men and women of her people of Libya, she wanted the Libyans to enjoy freedom and peace and wanted to see a Libya where human rights are respected.

نحيي نهاية هذا الأسبوع ذكرى المناضلة الليبية والمدافعة عن حقوق الإنسان سلوى أبوقعيقيص. كانت سلوى، المحامية والسياسية والناشطة، شخصية رئيسية في تاريخ ليبيا الحديث، بداية من  احتجاجات بنغازي في أولى أيام الثورة إلى المراحل الأولية من التحول الديمقراطي.

في حادثة صارت رمزا لتعثر العملية الانتقالية في ليبيا والسقوط في الفوضى، اغتيلت سلوى في 25  يونيو 2014، بعد عودتها إلى الوطن للإدلاء بصوتها في الانتخابات العامة. وبعد أسابيع، اغتال مسلحون عضو المؤتمر الوطني العام فريحة البركاوي، وتبع ذلك بفترة وجيز مقتل الناشطة في المجتمع المدني انتصار الحصائري برصاص مجهولين.

مضت ثلاث سنوات منذ تلك الحادثة ولم يحاكم أو يوجه الاتهام إلى أحد في قتل سلوى وفريحة وانتصار. إن إمكانية تحقيق السلام والعدل والديمقراطية في ليبيا تبدو أبعد من أي وقت مضى.

إن سلوى وفريحة وانتصار ومثلهن من الناشطات، بما يتميزن به من مصداقية وقوة اقناع وقدم راسخ في المجتمع الذي يسعين لتغييره، هن الأمل الأكبر للعالم من أجل السلام والعدل. عندما يكون بإمكان القتلة والمجرمون التحرش بالمدافعين عن حقوق الإنسان والاعتداء عليهم، بل وقتلهم والافلات دون عقاب، لا توجد عدالة ولا سلام ولا ديمقراطية.

إنه لمن واجب المجتمع الدولي حماية المدافعين عن حقوق الإنسان.

اسكتت جماعات العنف أصوات سلوى وفريحة وانتصار والعديد من المدافعين الشجعان عن حقوق الإنسان في أنحاء العالم. لكنهم لا يستطيعون إسكات رسالة الأمل التي بثوها، ولا محو المثال الذي تركوه لإلهام الناشطين من بعدهم.

إننا ندعو الحكومات والمجتمع المدني إلى تكثيف الجهود من أجل إجراء تحقيق مستقل بعد كل اعتداء وجريمة قتل ترتكب ضد المدافعات عن حقوق الإنسان.

نطلب من الدول الأعضاء في الأمم المتحدة دعم تحقيق المدعي العام للمحكمة الجنائية الدولية في الجرائم المحتمل وقوعها ضد الإنسانية في ليبيا منذ عام 2011. ويجب أن يتضمن هذا التحقيق أعمال العنف السياسي.

ونحن نسعى إلى تحقيق العدالة لكل من سلوى وفريحة وانتصار وجميع المدافعات عن حقوق الإنسان الذين وقعوا ضحايا للعنف؛ فإن العدالة للمدافعين عن حقوق الإنسان هي العدالة للجميع.



The Young Country At Risk Of Forgetting Its History

A country’s national day affords its people a chance to look back at their past, and consider where they might be headed to in the future. Many Somalilanders celebrating independence day today will remember the first, it took place just 26 years ago on 18 May 1991. The struggle they remember today was bloody. In a small country, it was a conflict that touched every family, every person in Somaliland.

For many, the commemoration of those who gave so much for Somaliland carries extra weight this year. Not only is Somaliland and the region on the brink of famine, but the progress made since the declaration of independence seems to be under threat.

The world has ignored Somaliland’s claim to independence, but in doing so it has perhaps also ignored one of the Horn of Africa’s few recent success stories. Recognised only as an “autonomous region,” Somaliland has made far more progress in building peace and transitioning to greater democracy than Somalia. Though it has not been immune to extremism, Somaliland has not experienced even close to the same level of violence as the south.

In any country that has emerged from years of dictatorship and civil war, such progress is always fragile. Somalilanders have already paid a high price for the autonomy they enjoy, they have since played their democratic role in elections and referendums, but threats to that progress are already clear.

When media outlets published claims of corruption and nepotism in the police force earlier this year, the authorities responded by arresting the reporting journalist. This followed similar arrests and intimidation of the media after parliament’s deeply controversial decision to allow the United Arab Emirates to build a military base in the port of Berbera.

More than almost anything else ― apart from the famine facing the region ― the decision to allow a foreign military power to set up a base in Somaliland casts a shadow over this year’s independence day. So heated was the debate in parliament that soldiers escorted opposition MPs out of the chamber following the vote.

When so many can still remember those who gave their lives for independence and sovereignty, there are serious debates to be had about the right forum to make such important and emotive decisions. When families have shed blood for control of their lands, shouldn’t they be asked directly for their consent?


These debates become even more important when senior officials allege the deal was driven by corruption at the very top of government, in both Somaliland and Somalia.

Somalia’s auditor general told a reporter that leading figures had been given “bags of cash” in Dubai to go ahead with the base. When there are few clear public benefits of the decision, questioning the probity of the deal becomes essential. If a country truly wants to be recognised as an independent nation, for example, why did it not use such a rare opportunity to exercise diplomatic leverage?

The allegations of corruption come at a time when many see deliberate attempts to edit and tamper with Somaliland’s history, to forget those who sacrificed so much for autonomy. They are wary of the minimizing and even erasure of key figures from the recent past, those who were central in the struggle for independence but who it is politically convenient for those currently in power to forget.

Somaliland and the rest of the region currently face the grave threat of famine, which must be the priority for local governments. However, when this crisis has been dealt with, there is a need for Somaliland to come to a national understanding about its history. It needs to commemorate and honour its past so that the lessons can be learned, and ensure mistakes are not repeated.

When so little history separates the birth of Somaliland and today, it is even more shocking to see efforts to erase history for the benefit of narrow political aims.

National days should be about recognising the sacrifices of the past, honouring and remembering those lost and those who remain with us. Despite the attempts to rewrite history, most Somalilanders know where they have come from. While they thought that their struggles had given them a clearer view of where they might be headed, I am afraid the view will be more obscure this independence day.


War Has Been Costly For The Arab Region And Africa, But Peace Is Priceless

A country which long ago became a hell for civilians can sink further still.

Even after six years of the most brutal conflict imaginable, the pictures of children struggling to breathe after the chemical attack in Idlib still have the power to shock. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that a country which long ago became a hell for civilians can sink further still.

There is no peace on the horizon, we can see only more violence, fresh horrors, crimes upon crimes. A world that had apparently said “never again” to chemical weapons, to sexual violence in war, to genocide, has seen its illusions shattered again and again in Syria. Conflict itself is like a chemical agent, disintegrating the fabric of society, its brutalizing effects stripping away our humanity, poisoning the minds of all those it touches.

We see more wretched symbolism in the timing of the attack on Idlib. Today, world leaders meet in Brussels for a conference entitled Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region. Yet another meeting of the apparently powerful in distant, gilded meeting rooms, more unfulfilled commitments, more unheeded recommendations, more unread communiques.

It seems extraordinary to plan for a future for Syria when as we speak war crimes are committed with impunity. If so much energy can be expended on talking about the conflict with nothing to show for it, then what hope is there for the region? If we can secure so little for Syria, then you can be sure that we will have even less for the people of South Sudan, of Yemen, of Somalia.

There is no peace on the horizon, we can see only more violence, fresh horrors, crimes upon crimes.

The world it seems has limited attention to pay to conflicts in the Arab region and Africa, and the intensity of the war in Syria means that it takes most of the available headlines. The signs across the region are sadly no less ominous than they are in Syria. Whether it is escalation in conflict or ever more militarization, we cannot afford to ignore what is going on.

Weeks after the U.S. raid in Yemen that killed 30 civilians – including nine children under the age of 13 – the Trump administration shredded combat rules designed to protect civilians in Somalia. For years resentment, anger and extremism in the region have been fueled by drone strikes that have killed thousands. Instead of stepping back from this lethal policy, the new administration has chosen to go even further.

Solutions to ending violent extremism in the Arab region and Africa will only be found in the communities, not by drone operators in aircraft hangers thousands of miles away, who either don’t know or don’t care about the difference between an extremist cell and a wedding party.

Even in Somaliland – the autonomous state on the Horn of Africa’s northern coast that has experienced far greater stability and peace than Somalia as a whole – we can see the warning signs of militarization. Earlier this year, Somaliland’s parliament gave permission to the United Arab Emirates to build a military base in the port city of Berbera. The UAE has been an active member of the coalition accused of targeting civilians just across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen. The decision proved so controversial that a small group of MPs vocally opposed to the base were marched out of the chamber by soldiers.

The region already has some of the most militarized societies in the world. Military spending by governments in the Arab region is 65% higher than the global average. For every dollar Sudan’s government spends on healthcare, it spends $70 on its military.


Solutions to ending violent extremism in the Arab region and Africa will only be found in the communities, not by drone operators…

Smaller levels of resource and effort have been put into development, trying to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals. The focus on making development progress sustainable is crucial, but to bring it about we must recognize that peace and security are absolutely fundamental.

Attempting to achieve important but narrow goals – like trying to end child marriage in Yemen – while conflict rages is a fruitless task. Like taking an aspirin to deal with a tumor, the treatment fails to deal with the core of the issue, and any results will be short-lived.

Security has become the watchword for governments across the region, the excuse for more military spending. But we are not more secure, it is not peace that we see breaking out. If spending in any other area – in health, education, in the private sector – failed so spectacularly to achieve its aim, you would expect to see screeching u-turns in policy.

Perhaps if the resources and political effort currently being thrown into escalating conflict and militarizing our region had been put into building peace, we might not be where we are today. Any meeting being held in the West on peace in the region needs to start with Western policy and Western responsibility on this issue in particular.

When arms made in Europe and bought by the U.S. meant for “friendly” forces end up in the hands of violent extremists, the West needs to drastically rethink its security policy. At the same time as leaders meet in Brussels to talk peace in the Arab region, the prime minister of the world’s fifth largest arms exporter is in Saudi Arabia to talk business with a regime being investigated for war crimes.

This contradiction of only talking peace while actually selling war has played a huge role in bringing us to where we are. It is time we recognized that peace is central to our goals of achieving security and development progress, and based our policies on that.