Not as widely known as it deserves to be given its accomplishments and creative approach, is a small human rights civil society organization called Euro-Med Human Monitor (EMM). It was inspired 11 years ago by the oppressive conditions existing in Gaza, and founded by a group of activists led by Ramy Abdu, then a resident of Gaza while still a doctoral student at the University of Manchester.
From the beginning EMM’s dedication to the promotion of human rights spread beyond the borders of Occupied Palestine, and EMM now has offices or representatives in 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, known as the MENA region and Europe, it is becoming a truly international organization with headquarters in Geneva, supported by volunteers and representatives spread throughout the world. In its short lifetime EMM has developed a strong reputation for political independence, staff dedication, effectiveness and efficiency, and most of all for its distinctive way of operating.
To begin withl, EMM 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. By adopting this mode of work, EMM has avoided diversions of its energies by major fundraising efforts, preferring to move forward with a small budget offset by big ideas, an impressive record of performance, continually motivated by outrage resulting from the widespread wrongdoing of governments throughout MENA. The initial idea of Euro-Med Monitor was inspired by popular rebellions against tyranny and oppression. This spirit of resistance swept through the Arab region in 2011 and continues to make its influence felt everywhere. Euro-Med Monitor strives to support these movements by planting seeds for international mobilization and stimulating international organizations and decision-makers to focus on violations of the people’s right to expression, freedom, and self-determination.
Perhaps, one the most innovative features of EMM 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. EMM 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 EMM involves a 22-yearr old Palestinian woman, Zainab al-Quolaq, 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. EMM 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-Quolaq, began serious study of painting, going on to become an acclaimed artist, even holding gallery exhibitions of her work in her native Gaza, but also in Geneva, even in the United States, evoking media enthusiasm. Zainab also spoke before the Human rights Council on behalf of Euro-Med Monitor in March. EMM and UN Women helped her release her first booklet containing 9 of her paintings describing her feelings during and in the aftermath of the attack. After she was isolating herself for months following the traumatizing attack, Zainab is now more open and has begun a Master’s degree in business administration.
At this time, EMM feels its special identity is solidified by having 70% of its active staff either drawn from youth or from the ranks of those victimized by human rights abuses. The organization 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.
It would be a mistake to suppose that EMM, despite its origins, was only concerned with the Palestinian agenda. A look at its Website or Twitter account would quickly dispel such an idea as would a glance at the titles of recent EMM reports or appearances before the Human Rights Council. 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. EMM 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 EMM 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, EMM 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, EMM is creating a new and exciting model for how to combine civil society activism with effective efforts to improve the overall protection of human rights. It is a young organization, but one with incredible promise, having already compiled a record to admire and emulate.