Struggling in Jerusalem
Five years ago, I was sitting for dinner with my then 12 year old little sister with a group of relative strangers - we were in the middle of a week long trip, with a few more days to spend with them. I was 22 at the time, and one of the people asked me, as is custom in Israeli society to ask people around that age, "what did you do in the military". I refused my military service and spent 5 months between military prison and detention. When this man asked the question he meant nothing by it, just making small talk, but I saw the look on my sister's face, the look that says: "It's not that I don't agree with you politically or something, but do we really have to have this conversation? do we now have to be the odd one's out, that traitors?". I would say that that is the strongest effect - becoming the other, the stranger, the traitor in your own society. When every small talk conversation becomes a political argument because who I am, what they believe I represent, threatens something in the structure of society itself. It is always being labelled, judged, being a decedent, an automatic outcast. I can add to that prison time for refusing, or arrests, or indictments, or my fears about the prospects of getting a job as a teacher once I finish my studies in a country that constantly cracks down on teachers who dare stray from the party line. But all of these are nothing in comparison to what it is to live under occupation. .The most challenging part of me is seeing how little our action accomplish. In the 14 years that I have been active, I have seen Israeli society around me becoming more and more right wing, less and less willing to listen to any criticism of the occupation, and less and less apologetic about its racism or anti-democratic sentiments. It seems that every week a new piece of legislation is introduces to limit the work of anything considered "left", or another discriminatory practice against Palestinian citizens of Israel, or another wave of demolitions or arrests in the occupied Palestinian territories. There's always something, and it feels like it's getting worse and worse. The realities of occupation and complete disregard of Palestinians life is getting worse, and the marginalisation and persecution of those human right defenders struggling against it are getting worse.It is one thing for the risks to grow as you feel your work gains traction, but a different thing to see the risk grow and at the same time things on the ground becoming worse, the political prospects becoming worse, and a general feeling that society around you is no longer even willing to listen to you. For me this is the hardest thing.The other side of the same coin, is that what inspires me are the people most at risk by these policies continuing to struggle including when facing prison terms or worse. Palestinians who anyway would be as risk on a daily basis by the occupation taking upon themselves an extra risk to protect others, and their own community - that for me is inspiring. .My name is Sahar Vardi. I'm a Jewish-Israeli activist from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a lot of things to a lot of people. For me it was the city that taught me to be an activist - a term that sounds more natural to my ears than human rights defender. Growing up in a city that 38% of its residents - Palestinians - do not even have citizenship and live in a completely different reality than their Jewish neighbours, that's what politicised me. As a teenager, while busses were blowing up in West Jerusalem - the side of the city I grew up in - I first had a chance to go to an East Jerusalem village. A small village a 15 minute drive from my home, the residents of which weren't even residents of the city: according to Israeli law, while the village was in Jerusalem, its residents were not considered residents of the city, and therefor illegal inhabitants of their own homes. I remember my father getting phone calls in the middle of the night from people from the village that were taken out of their beds at 3am by the police, arrested for being illegally inhabitants, taken to the closest checkpoint, made to sign a statement that they won't do it again, and released with no way to get back to the home that they aren't allowed to be in anyway. And so there was a need for an Israeli activist to come and "smuggle" them back into the city, back to their homes, until the next night. For me, seeing these two completely different realities, sets of laws and daily experiences of people according to whom they were born to - that's what made me an activist.
Reflections on human rights activism
I became a HRD through my involvement in the Young Christian Students IYCSW) movement in Sri Lanka and then Asia. Where I was inspired to respond to injustices, rights violations and oppression. But most difficult and also dangerous part of my work as a HRD was during the last phase of the war in Sri Lanka and during the authoritarian post war regime of Rajapakse family in Sri Lanka, between 2007-2014..Strong and sustained involvement of survivors and victims families in struggles for justice, together with people who are willing to support them, and a society which is outraged about injustices and oppression, and passionate about responding to such injustices. It's also important to recognize and address violations and abuses irrespective of who perpetrator and victim is, whether state or not state. .Yes, there was a transition in Sri Lanka from very authoritarian to less authoritarian government. I believe I was also able to help in protecting some HRDs and civilians at risk, in Sri Lanka and in Asia., and training and mentoring some younger HRDs..Dealing with family and friends, their fears, concerns about safety and livelihood. Also meeting expectations of survivors and victims families and other human rights defenders. Not demanding too much from colleagues! And of course trying stay safe from the perpetrators whose violations and abuses you are exposing and condemning. .Survivors and victims families who struggle for justice, other HRDs, and occasional victories, whether they are through some of my own involvement or even in far away places which i only read or hear about
Protecting & Promoting the Rights of Transgender Community in Pakistan
The transgenders are the least acceptable segment in our society in Pakistan, who always face hate, ridiculous and exclusion. They are not only deprived from their basic rights but also have minimal opportunities for survival, growth and development. Despite a great renaissancein gender equality and empowerment, Pakistan still lags behind many othercountries in gender parity index. Global gender parity report 2015 reveals thatPakistan - on global index - is ranked at 144th number out of 145countries. In prevailing social definition, the “gender” is often referred tobeing a man and woman; while transgender persons are largely and explicitlyignored in this definition. Pakistan is home of estimated 300,000 transgenderpersons. These transgenders have historically been marginalized, and directedto hate as well as ridicule in the country. Extremely inadequate attention isgiven to their rights. In one hand, insufficient legislation exists forprovision of equal human rights to transgenders; while on other hand,enforcement of existing legislation seems very poor. The study conducted by GTOin Punjab (Pakistan) reveals that about 84% trans-persons received hatred,taunts, discrimination, exploitation or abuse from the society including theirfamily members. One of the reasons behind this state is typical attitude ofdecision makers, political leaders and Government Departments towardstransgenders. Inadequate legislation and poor enforcement of existing policiesis one of the most underlying reasons behind dismal status of trans-persons.Their inclusion is generally missed in policy making and service delivery..The grant received from the NHRF is specifically utilized to protect and promote the rights of Transgender community in Pakistan. The Good Thinkers Organization and its stakeholders give the great value to the generous financial and technical contribution of NHRF for promoting and protecting the rights of Transgender community in Pakistan. Thank you so much Norwegian Human Rights Fund for your valuable supportfor the most marginalized and neglected community of our society. .Our organization has identified Transgender Activists and giving them awareness and legal support for the protection of LGBTQ Community in Pakistan. The organization established a diversified Network, which is named as Transgender Protection Network.Members of this network are from Transgender Community, Lawyers, Media and NGOs. In case of any violence against the Transgenders, this network takes stand for their rights and protection. The lawyer members of this network are giving free legal aid and support to the transgenders at local level..Under the grant of Norwegian Human Rights Fund, since 2014, the Good Thinkers Organization is actively engaged in sensitizing the government departments, law enforcement agencies, religious leaders and community at large to protect the rights of Transgender Community in Pakistan. The GTO has established a Transgender Protection Network in Pakistan, which is based on Transgenders,Lawyers, Media Representatives and NGO workers. This network is not only creating awareness among the Transgender Community about their legal and constitutional rights but also providing free legal aid and support to hundreds of transgenders in Pakistan. The said Transgender Protection Network is playing its important role in ensuring social acceptance of the transgenders, as they always face hate, violence and discrimination in all fields of life. Currently, the transgender protection network is doing its very hard efforts to ensure specific legislation in Pakistan for the protection of rights of transgender community. The Good Thinkers Organization is highly grateful to the Norwegian Human Rights Fund for their generous support to protect the rights of LGBTs in Pakistan.
The Human Rights Defenders Fund
The HRDF was founded in 2011 to provide HRDs with the support they need to fend off attacks on their bodies, persons and work, and to carry out their activities more safely and effectively, thus mitigating the “chilling effect” mentioned above.The Fund’s main activity area is the provision of legal aid to HRDs who face different forms of legal persecution, ensuring that HRDs can continue carrying out their activism knowingthat they have support.The HRDF further provides lawyers with professional tools, to strengthen their capacity to provide top quality defense that carries the Human Rights language to the courts. This alsoincludes the induction of new lawyers into the field, in order to diversify the group of lawyers who can effectively protect HRDs.The HRDF offers trainings and legal tools for activists to encourage the use of non-violent protest, allowing activists to better plan and execute activities, and decrease therisk involved.Lastly, the Fund engages in international advocacy, working with NGOs, INGOs and representatives of the international community to disseminate information on the work ofHRDs, the threats they face, and support they require..Zehave Grinfeld, an Israeliactivist for public housing, is also involved in the struggle of Palestinianprisoners in Israel. She was arrested during a demonstration in supportprisoner Muhammad Allan while he was on hunger strike, and indicted for riotand for “offending a public officer”.Zehavawas provided legal representation by the HRDF. Following lengthy negotiations,in February 2017 an agreement was reached between her legal defense and thestate. Zehava was convicted of riot, acquitted from insulting, and receivedprobation. The state insisted that a large fine would be imposed on Zehava, butdue to her lawyer’s insistent objection, the court ruled against imposing afine. Thisis yet another case of misuse of criminal law against HRDs in Israel. .There is no proper public debate about the status of human rights defenders in Israel, and about the rights and obligations associated with this status. Law enforcement agencies, primarily the police, attach no importance to the array of rights given to human rights defenders, which is specifically intended to allow them to carry out their activities. Instead, it often seems that police and military forces on the ground as well as their prosecution arms consider criminal law a legitimate tool for constraining human rights defenders and interfering with their actions. In many cases, courts too choose to ignore the principles of freedom of expression and the role of defendants as human rights defenders.In recent years, enforcement agencies have shown an increasingly repressive approach toward legitimate, lawful actions by human rights defenders in Israel and in the OPT, and there is a discernable trend toward using false charges and criminal measures to constrain their activities. Many defenders who take part or play a leading role in demonstrations are criminalized as law breakers. They are often arrested without committing an offense, ordered to stay away from the scene of the struggle as a condition for release and indicted. In the OPT, Israeli activists are removed from locales where regular demonstrations take place in order to prevent partnerships with Palestinian activists and Palestinian defendersare exposed to criminalization measures such as administrative detention and criminal prosecution under security legislation in military courts.The military and the police conduct false arrests, mostly in routine demonstrations in known locales in Israel and the OPT in order to weaken local leaderships who promote non-violent popular struggles for human rights. Enforcement agencies sometimes attempt to prevent completely legal demonstrations and rallies by using arrests, allegations or indictments on light offenses such as “illegal assembly”. The most extreme measure for criminalizing non-violent activities by human rights defenders are indictments, which result in lengthy criminal proceedings and have serious long-term impacts on the lives of defenders, even if the proceedings end with lenient penalties or acquittals.Arrests and indictments have a chilling effect on human rights defenders and others in their vicinity and may prevent them from participating in actions and in public debates. Those who fall victim to legal proceedings are forced to devote a considerable amount of time and resources into defending themselves, at the expense of resources meant for their activities. In addition to the direct impact on operations, these criminalization measures undermine the legitimacy of organizations and individuals to promote public causes, weaken the human rights movement in the relevant territory and undermine democracy and the rule of law. Criminalization also has serious financial consequences for both individuals and organizations and impacts their ability to continue to engage in human rights activities, and the targeting of leaders and key activists has broader repercussions for the communities from which they hail and for civil society at large.