In the best of times, human rights advocacy requires constant tactical innovation. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019 generated huge additional challenges. In early 2020, the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances (ANEKED) in The Gambia was working on creating an in-person traveling memorialization exhibition of their “The Duty to Remember” project. They planned the launch as part of Human Rights Week 2020 organized by the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
Remembering Victims and Abuses
Since the onset of conflict in 2011, over 400,000 Syrian lives have been lost, and more than half of the population remains displaced; nearly 6 million refugees are living outside of the country and an additional 6 million are displaced within Syria’s borders, according to a 2020 World Bank report. Those who have lost their loved ones and their homes are often left voiceless, leaving an astonishing number of stories left untold.
Visual imagery can be a powerful medium for mobilization and awareness around a specific issue. These depictions are especially potent if they utilize a consistent symbol, one that can capture the issue in a vivid and recognizable way. The Resource Centre for Gender Equality (ABAAD), established in 2011, has risen to considerable prominence for its annual “16 Days of Activism” campaigns, each with a different theme to address gender equity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
This tactic provides a pathway for victims of severe abuses perpetrated against them to seek justice denied them in their home country. Although it may require considerable time, the application of universal jurisdiction is gaining recognition by countries around the world as an effective way to internationally combat impunity. Universal jurisdiction is a legal principle of international law that allows national courts to prosecute such crimes regardless of where they occurred or the nationality of the perpetrator or victim.
When addressing human rights violations in a public reconciliation process, it’s important to make the process comfortable for victims who testify. One tactic is “accompaniment” of victims by volunteers trained in psychosocial support and the practical realities of the process. The goal is to give victims an empowering experience that helps their healing and does not contribute to re-traumatization.
To address gross human rights violations committed during apartheid, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was initiated by legislation in 1995. Their mandate was to document violations committed by state bodies or armed opposition, to promote national unity and reconciliation, and to offer policy reforms to prevent future abuses. In addition to amnesty and human rights hearings, special hearings were held, focused on abuses suffered by women and children. These hearings were held around the country and were covered extensively by all media.
Mexican citizen and journalist, Epigmenio Ibarra, created tumblr blog #IllustradoresConAyotzinapa which combines social media and artistic illustrations of 43 disappeared college students to sustain awareness of their disappearances and to memorialize their individual lives.
Kituo Cha Sheria (Legal Advice Centre) helps to empower prisoners to advocate for themselves by providing legal education in Kenyan prisons.
Issues of poverty, marginalization, and vulnerability affect people’s access to justice. Kituo Cha Sheria, founded in 1973 by a small group of legal professionals, works to combat this lack of access by providing free education to the most marginalized communities, particularly prison inmates. In Kenya, the ratio of legal practitioners to the population is 1 to 5,000, so these services are desperately needed.
The Khulumani Support Group organizes South African apartheid survivors into a collective voice in order to better provide support and advocate for reparations.
Turkish protesters stood in silence at symbolic locations to draw attention to government abuses and unmet promises.
Mass demonstrations began in Istanbul in May 2013 as protests aimed at halting government plans to develop a popular urban park grew into a broader social movement to protest increasingly authoritarian policies and the violent response to peaceful demonstrations.
Men submit photos of themselves dressed as women to the “Kurd Men for Equality” Facebook page to support women’s rights.
The police forces of Marivan, Iran, punished a criminal convicted of domestic abuse by forcing him to wear traditional Kurdish women’s clothing. This punishment was meant to be a form of public humiliation. However, many men felt that the punishment was derogatory towards women and began a Facebook campaign to tell the Iranian authorities that “being a woman is not a tool to humiliate or punish anyone.”